If Pope Francis is looking for some exercise, he should take up surfing. Because one thing’s for sure—the Holy Father is riding a wave right now.
The world has reacted with praise to his encyclical on the environment, called Laudato Si, and the Pope’s personal popularity is enormous. We Catholics are surfing right along with him, happy to hear folks who generally despise the Church tell us “we love your Pope.”
All this is good. Jesus wanted the Gospel to be attractive—he said “My words are spirit and they are life (John 6:63). Crowds loved to hear him preach.
Pope Francis also wants the Gospel to be attractive—he wrote “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”
It’s all good, but it won’t last, unless Pope Francis has a very short pontificate. And this Sunday’s readings help us understand why.
I’m sure the first reading today caught the Holy Father’s eye. He would recognize right away a connection with Ezekiel. Poor Ezekiel was a “good news/bad news” prophet. God did not ask him to make people comfortable but to disturb them with his message.
Although he was preaching to his fellow exiles far from their homeland, he had to give them the straight goods: He told his fellow Israelites that their misery was not due to God’s failure “but because their own sins and their own infidelity.” (Scott Hahn, ed., Catholic Bible Dictionary, 273)
It’s a fair bet that that Ezekiel was not popular. He didn’t appear to have been persecuted like some other prophets, but surely the pain of speaking harsh truths day after day to his friends and neighbours was worse in some ways than being flogged or exiled.
Today’s Gospel reminds serious Christians that they’ll never be popular for long. Our message of repentance is no more welcome today than two thousand years ago. Sometimes it will be the world—by which today is meant the media, among other forces—that will take offense at us. Other times it will be the state or the educational establishment, or employers.
With the increase in religious persecution around the world, this is a good time to reflect long and hard on what the late Cardinal Francis George said when he was Archbishop of Chicago: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”
But sometimes the persecution is less dramatic, more like what Ezekiel had to deal with. Sometimes it will be our own family members, our own neighbours, who cannot deal with it when we hold fast to the faith. Jesus has told us clearly the price the faithful Christian may have to pay, even at home.
A hot summer day is no time to preach a long homily about misunderstanding and persecution! But in our thoughts and prayers today, let us ask God to remind us that every wave will eventually crash and that his power is made perfect in weakness.
Let us ask for the courage to be prophets who remain faithful to Christ and his message, in both good times and bad.