“Traveling is part of the pope’s “job”. You are only a “missionary of the word” if you preach it to the four corners of the Earth. It is a condicio sine qua non, a necessity. … Planes are essential and when you travel with popes you realize how small the world is. I remember being struck by the words of St. Francesca Calbrini, the patron saint of emigrants, who said, “the world is too small for me.” She did not just say it, she proved it was true by crossing the Atlantic Ocean twenty-two times on steamships in the late 1800s and early 1900s. “God’s Gypsy”, or the “nun in perpetual motion” crossed the Andes on the back of a mule. Wasn’t America a long way away? Certainly not, for her it was a like a “path to the garden”. Nowadays, we are accustomed to an itinerant Vatican that travels and flies. It is part of the modern-day papacy’s DNA – the other side of his Holiness, who crosses the heavens while waiting to be measured by them. “
And, it occurred to me that it takes more than action. The actions must project God’s character. It takes more than preaching to the four corners of the Earth. What we preach is of more importance than where. As a person not of the Roman Catholic faith, I was positively drawn to the description of the Pope’s personal interactions while traveling.
“… serene, joyful and happy person, because he has accepted this task as an appointment he did not seek; … Nevertheless, he lives naturally and unaffected. His relationship with others is direct and not studied … he does not descend from on high, so people do not feel uncomfortable in his presence, but accepted.”
That is something that would ideally describe every disciple who vicariously presents Christ to the world.
As I wandered around Bologna earlier this week, I marveled at San Petroni, one of the world’s largest churches. In fact it would perhaps have been the largest, if the Vatican had not intervened to ensure it didn’t rival St Peter’s basilica. Lining each side of the church were ornate chapels that were anything but “natural and unaffected”. Interestingly, one chapel contains Modena’s painting that depicts Mohamed being thrown into hell, an artwork recently described as “more offensive than Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses.” In front of each chapel were ornate fences with metal spikes along the top that made it clear which side of the fence I was to remain. By putting a coin in the slot I could turn the lights on in these little chapels or light an electric candle in a rack just outside the railing. Clergy stood by to take my confessions and intercede between God and me. As I watched mass – the chanting, the pageantry of the priests’ entry with the ‘host’, I got the sense that God was “on high” and that he was not “descending” any time soon. God was a long way off, and there was certainly nothing too personal about the relationship between God and man.
Now, I probably don’t have standing to opine on what the actions of another Christian denomination say about God, but I can pose for us the question of what our corporate and individual actions demonstrate about the Master. How do we take the roof off our church and let those in need of healing in? (Luke 5) In our churches, what are the equivalents of fences and spikes separating people from a depiction of God?
Do we accept the “catholic” universality of our commissioning as disciples (Acts 10, esp. v 36; Eph 1:15-23; Matt 28:18-20), or place that responsibility on an organization or other human beings?