By James Drane
Special to the Tribune
If you happen to be one of the millions of Catholics who no longer attend Mass, or one of the millions of Protestants who no longer attend Sunday services, stand by. A revolution is about to take place within Christianity that you will not want to miss.
The upcoming revolution will have an influence on Protestants, Eastern and Western Catholics and on their relation with one another. In our lifetime a real revolution is under way — one that will change the world and the future of Christianity.
In past history, the Protestant Reformation made important changes. It began in the 16th century as a movement to get back to the ways of early Christianity and to get away from some of the corrupt ways of some later Middle Age and Renaissance popes. Some examples of papal corruption were Pope Alexander VI and the Borgia family take-over of church politics.
The Protestant Reformation and the separation of Eastern Churches from Rome changed things throughout Christianity. A new Catholic Reformation is now beginning, of all places, from inside The Vatican. Believe it or not, the leader of this reformation is a pope who took the name Francis in order to symbolize his rejection of all the pomp and worldly ways which the papacy had accumulated over so many centuries.
The Protestant Reformation was triggered by a continuing string of papal scandals originating from the Roman Church’s top-down Roman-style political system. A new reformation is coming from within that Roman Catholic Church’s political system and from a recently elected pope. What Pope Francis is just starting to do will continue throughout his papacy and it will bring about widespread change. His reformation will bring renovation, regeneration and rebirth in all Christian communities.
Christianity today is fragmented into thousands of competitive and polarized communities that are all experiencing loss and decline. This fragmentation and decline is the expression of an illness that needs to be healed. There was a spirituality, piety and asceticism that energized both Orthodox Christianity and the 16th century reformation movements. This spiritual emphasis needs to be recovered.
All Christians recognized the flaws and corruption within the papacy and its Roman style politics. Today’s reformation, however, is coming from that very papacy and from The Vatican in Rome. Instead of being a position of power, the papacy of Francis aspires to become a symbol of the original meaning which Jesus intended when he called aside one of his disciples (Simon) and said, “You are Peter (Petrus, i.e., rock), and upon this rock I will build my church.”
The cardinals who elected Francis expected him to be a “Steve Jobs” and make changes which they knew were needed. The process began immediately. His interviews are full of new perspectives and his public appearances reflect a new style of relationship with all people. Now it is time for all Christians, Protestants, Roman and Orthodox Catholics to get back into their communities in order to take a role in what will be a 21st century reformation.
The church that needed reform in the past needs reform again. Instead of this reform, however, being directed against a worldly papacy, it is a pope this time who is the reformer. This pope will soon be transferring authority away from Rome to groups of church leaders in different geographical areas. They will manage church affairs. Authority and responsibility will reside more locally. Rather than being a seat of authority, the papacy will be a symbol of unity and an aid for facilitating dialogue.
The new Christian church will be one in which Protestants and Catholics will be more united and more comfortable with one another. All church communities will take part in building a more vibrant and more united Christianity.
To live during a time of enormous historical change and to miss what is happening would be tragic. It would mean to miss an opportunity to be part of world history and to give real meaning and purpose to one’s life.
Can anyone doubt that a Christian revolution is underway? Imagine a pope calling the Roman Catholic Church overly clerical and insular, interested in temporal power and led by narcissists. In a recent interview, Pope Francis said, “Heads of the church have often been narcissists, flattered by their courtiers.”
Former church breakups were triggered by just that type of situation. With a new reformation in progress, all church communities can begin to work toward reunification, a new era of healing, sharing and cooperation.
I saved a mention of the most important revolutionary change until last. In the new era of church history, there will be a strong role for women. “After all,” Francis said, “the Italian word for church (Chiesa) is feminine.”
James Drane, Ph.D., is the Russell Roth Professor of Bioethics at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.