One of the joys of witnessing Pope Francis’ first weeks in office was to see him keep people guessing. Was he going to live in the Apostolic Palace or not? Would he wash the feet of females in the prison? Would he ride in the papal limousine? Would he wear red shoes and fine vestments? What would he do next?
Pope Francis has reminded us that the Lord is a God of surprises. The Catholic faith is "ever ancient, ever new," because, while we have our dogmas and decrees and our rubrics and rules and regulations, we also have the Holy Spirit — a Spirit that blows where he wills. In the Church, it is always springtime because there is forever something new and fresh being brought into life by the Holy Spirit.
When I was a boy in Protestant Sunday school, I was thrilled and delighted by the story of Jesus going into the Temple to turn over the tables of the money changers. The Sunday school teacher said it was because they were selling things in church, and that was wrong. I suspected, however, that Jesus was turning over more than just the tables of the money changers.
He was turning over the whole system. After all, he had also mocked the religious leaders for wearing fine robes and loving to be greeted respectfully in the street and taking the best seats in the synagogue. He had called them the sons of Satan. They were snakes, liars and hypocrites. Jesus was turning over more than just a few tables. He was revolutionizing the entire religion of his day. More than that, he was turning the whole world upside down.
Pope Francis has been called a reforming pope, but the spirit of reform is always present in the Church.
Every good pope has been a reforming pope, in one way or another. This is as it should be, for Christ calls his Church to a constant and frequent reform. To put it another way, the Church and every one of the baptized are called to constant conversion.
Jesus doesn’t come simply to turn over the tables in the Temple or the Jewish religion of his day. He also comes to turn over the tables of complacency, self-righteousness, greed and compromise in the Church today and in my own life.
When Jesus turned over the tables, he was giving a radical witness to the truth, and we should remember that the Gospel is never good news unless it is radical. The word "radical" comes from the Latin word radix, which means "root." To be radical is to go back to the basics. It is to get back to what is essential.
To believe and live a radical Catholic faith, therefore, is to get back to the basic, table-turning, upside-down life of Jesus of Nazareth.
One of the reasons the Church seems so sluggish and ineffectual in the world today is that so many Catholics have no idea how to live a radical, back-to-basics, essential form of Catholicism.
To be a radical Catholic means being in a real relationship with Jesus Christ instead of with the world.
Too many Catholics have never even begun to live the radical life in Christ that the Gospel calls for.
In her important book Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell explains why the Church is so often ineffectual and weak. She explains that an "intentional disciple" is someone who has encountered the table-turning Jesus and taken a step of complete and total commitment to him.
The intentional disciple then lives a radically different life than those in the world around him. The intentional disciple lives the Gospel and proclaims the Gospel through a life transformed by the risen Christ.
Some Catholics worry that this sort of radical Catholicism is fanatical Catholicism. They see Catholics who are "sold out" and "110% Catholic," and they are scared away.
We don’t need fanatical Catholics, but we do need radical Catholics who have gone back to the roots of the religion and found Christ the Lord — the one who turns over the tables and shows us how to live lives of complete and profound unity with himself.
Radical Catholicism is real Catholicism. It is both gritty and glorious, humble and happy, beautiful and blessed, simple and splendid — and it is not only radical, it is radiant.
Father Dwight Longenecker
is the pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church
in Greenville, South Carolina. Browse his books, visit
his blog and be in touch at DwightLongenecker.com.