For someone like me who’s grown up in church culture, it’s easy to get caught up in the myriad causes, interests, and issues that Christians often get caught up in. “Seeker-friendly”, “worship wars”, and “the prayer of Jabez” may sound like nothing familiar to the average person, but anyone who grew up long enough in the typical conservative evangelical church probably knows these catchphrases well. They were/are descriptions of side-issues Christians have rallied to or against over the years. “Seeker-friendly” for example is a description we use for churches that have basically geared their services to look less like a traditional service and maybe more like an evening in a café or something more accessible so as to draw people in. “Worship wars” is a description of the tug of war that happens in churches where the older generation wants good old hymns sung by a choir with an organ vs. the younger generation that prefers a band and more modern music. I won’t even go into the “prayer of Jabez.” Feel free to google it….. no, on second thought, don’t.
But my point is that these issues, however interesting or important they may be, are not really at the core of what makes a Christian a Christian. And sometimes a person can get so lost in them that the foundation starts to erode underneath him. It’s like a married couple who have spent so much of their time and effort raising their children that, when the children leave the nest, they can’t remember why they got married in the first place. Christians forget what the core, the fundamental meaning of “Christian”, is. And what’s worse, when Christians forget, the world forgets. And before we know it, “Christian” becomes nothing more than a synonym for “anti-gay”, “anti-science”, or “pro-life.”
What Pope Francis seems to do, not just in his words, but in his actions, is bring back to the forefront the simple Gospel message: Christ died for me, now I live for Him. And it doesn’t mean he keeps from going into detail. That simple truth has vast implications. But it grounds our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. Instead of hot-button issues becoming the sun around which everything else in our lives swirls, Jesus becomes the center around which all these issues can be put into perspective.
As I read Pope Francis’ writings, what I gather is that a Christian is someone who essentially has these three characteristics in his or her life: a relationship with Jesus, a missionary heart, and service for the poor.