Pope Francis has been working to reform the Vatican’s bank, long suspected of being a channel for laundering mafia money. On Monday he preached a fiery sermon against corruption in the church, stating boldly, “where there is deceit, the Spirit of God cannot be.” Referencing Jesus’ warning about hypocrites as “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27), he stated: “A life based on corruption is varnished putrefaction.” His own example of modest lifestyle and humble service empowers his message.
Now a prosecutor in Italy is warning that the pope has become a target of mafia clans. He told a reporter, “I don’t’ know if organized criminals are in a position to do something, but they are certainly thinking about it. They could be dangerous.”
When we attack the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18), they fight back. But the significance of speaking and serving in love is more than worth its cost.
Pope Francis’ call to humility, purity and service is making a difference. At a bishops’ annual assembly in Baltimore last week, Cardinal Timothy Dolan reported, “I hear from our parish priests. They’re telling me the crowds at Sunday Mass are up, the confession lines are longer, inquiries about the Catholic faith are more abundant, and even the collections are going up.” When we help hurting people, the world notices.
Fifteen years ago, when I began my last pastorate, our church commissioned a focus group study to ask non-Christians their opinions about Christianity. No surprise: they thought worship services were boring and sermons were irrelevant. But they also considered the church to be significantly relevant when it meets physical needs. “That’s what the church should be doing—feeding the hungry,” one said.
Recent studies show that the culture hasn’t changed its mind: we must meet physical need if we want to meet spiritual need. Dr. Randel Everett, pastor of First Baptist Church in Midland, Texas is right—I have no right to preach the gospel to a hungry person. But when we feed bodies, we can feed souls.
Think about your journey to faith in Christ. Were you brought to Jesus more through theological persuasion or personal engagement? By logic or by relationships? My brother and I were invited as teenagers to ride a bus to church; there we met people who welcomed us, included us and cared about us. We wanted the Christ we saw in them.
Martin Luther King, Jr. noted, “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
How can you change your culture today? Complete Jesus’ sentence, in words and in actions: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you ___________________” (John 13:35).