Saturday, May 11, 2013

Surprised by Uncommon Values

In his office early one morning a lawyer, listening to music and writing, heard the phone ring. It was a friend who had passed by the office and seeing the light felt compelled to give him some friendly advice, telling him he should stop working so much, "Are you working early mornings to make more money?" he asked.

"That's not what I'm doing," the lawyer tried to  explain, but the friend went on to say, "What are you going to do with all that extra money? You need to go home to your family." The only reason his friend could think of for a person being in his office outside of regular hours, the lawyer said, was to make more money. He had no idea that he may have been reading a book, listening to music, writing a personal letter or an article intended for publication, which he did write for the Catholic Digest, discussing just this issue of misunderstood values. 

This difficulty was evident when Pope Benedict announced his retirement. The mass media the world over had an abundance of speculation to work with, and promptly did: Could it be a plot? Was the pope overcome with difficulties he couldn't manage? A German who could not deal with the Italian entrenchment in the Vatican? among other speculations--all reasonable explanations but far from the truth.

The truth was that he was old and, after prayerful reflection on what would be demanded of him, he clearly stated that at his age he felt he would not be able to deal with the difficulties the Church was currently facing.  He was sure he had made the right decision but few accepted his explanation as the sole or real reason for the resignation. If the mass media had considered humility and love as the reasons for his resignation, instead of more 'newsworthy speculation', would it have been the same coverage?

The lawyer doesn't think so. More interesting were the seemingly endless discussions of whether the next pope would be an Italian, a non-European, a conservative, a progressive conservative, a black. The media had a great time trying to  pick the next pope, the one whose personal charisma and leadership qualities stood out above the other so-called contenders, but when it became known that the newly elected pope had paid for his own hotel expenses, and was in the habit of taking public transportation to work, the media finally realized that the cardinals were using another value system when they chose Bergoglio to be their pope. He was not in any top-ten contender list and he was not tied to any value that the world thought important.

In Pope Francis' first sermon, he  made clear that his priorities would not be those of the world: "When one does not build on solid ground, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sand castles. Everything collapses. It is without stability. When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we walk without the Cross (following the  values of the world). When we build without the Cross and profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are being worldly. We are merely priests, bishops, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord."

When the friend of the lawyer saw the light in the office and made his comment, he was using the world's value system. If the lawyer had exhibited more convincingly in his own life the values of poverty, humility and love, would his friend have spoken as he did? Probably not.

The lawyer is thankful, however, that the cardinals did select Pope Francis. It was an opportunity to show all of us that the values of humility and love are still important values in life.

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