Look no further than Pope Francis to see Good Discipleship in action. What is discipleship if it is not grounded in the studied practice and fearless proclamation of the challenging teachings of Jesus Christ?
I, like many, love this pope and have done little since he arrived in the United States this week other than tune into live feeds of his speeches and homilies in order to soak up his every word. The man is a prophet on a mission to deliver the Gospel message to the whole world.
His demeanor and style of delivery have made him wildly popular with people of all faith traditions as well as many non-believers. His words are refreshing and compelling, and urgent. There are a few who wish he would be silent. Francis has alluded to the possibility of a short tenure, and knows his popularity may be brief. This awareness led him earlier this month to remark “Jesus also, for a certain time, was very popular, and look at how that turned out.”
Pope Francis is the Good Disciple, but I can’t help but notice the volume of grumbling against Francis’ pastoral focus on the impoverishment of the earth and its people. It suggests his opponents, many of them Christian, do not share my gushing definition of him as a good disciple.
As soon as word came out that Pope Francis was writing an encyclical letter on the environment, many hard core capitalists, again many of whom are Christian, got prickly. And ever since the May 24, 2015 publication of Laudato si‘ (On Care for our Common Home), his critics have suggested he’d do well to keep his church business out of the political realm and stick with the things he’s “qualified” to do. Things, I suppose, like lead prayer, administer sacraments, and celebrate the mass.
Call me crazy, but the first commandment, “Love God and neighbor” implies loving all of God’s creation. Still, one does not need to share the view of creation as divinely inspired in order to understand that greed-driven environmental deterioration and its effect on human life, particularly the poor, is so great a threat to the continuation of life on this planet that a global effort to correct it is now essential.
Pope Francis’ message is one of hope and encouragement that changes are possible, changes both to the way people understand ecological and financial responsibility, and changes to a public policy focused on serving the common good. Care for our common home (and its inhabitants) is a humanitarian issue and indeed a serious political matter.
I hope that many people, after having heard or at least read some of the Pope’s powerful words which he delivered this past week will be inspired to make meaningful changes in the way they live and view our precious common home. Clearly, voices of dissent will linger. But it is up to those of us who take to heart Francis’ message to give witness to them, starting today.
For Christians, discipleship—living out Jesus’ teachings— involves a commitment to social justice—loving our neighbors, forgiving them as many times as is needed, and doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. No one, especially Jesus, said it would be easy. He told his disciples they would be hated because of him [MK13:13; MT 10:22; LK 21:17].
Jesus did not come to build a church to house the Trinity and to “assist nicely washed and appointed people to maintain the status quo.” Christianity is not about having a comforting religious experience. We have responsibilities.
Pope Francis’ iteration of Catholic social teachings comes directly from the words and examples of Jesus as well as the prophetic books found in the Hebrew Scriptures. What Francis says challenges those who believe the earth and its riches are at their disposal. In his encyclical, Pope Francis says “We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.” [Laudato Si, ch2 no.67]. In like manner, Francis insists that society has a responsibility to care for the least of our brothers and sisters, many of whom suffer as a direct result of policies driven by human greed.
Caring for the poor and being good stewards of the earth and its resources is not a debatable topic; all are woven into the fabric of a civilized society—especially an extremely wealthy capitalist society in which people of good faith and character ought to recognize that the common good, indeed a peaceful world, depends on sincere generosity and compassion for all.
I want to be a good disciple like Pope Francis. This means continued prayer and study of scripture, both the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures. It means attending to the wisdom of other like-minded traditions and respecting our profound and beautiful tapestry of differences. It means taking an active role in conserving earthly resources, reducing my footprint, and becoming more aware of what I consume and what I waste. It means stepping out of my comfort zone and seeking ways to level the field of opportunity on which all humans stand.
I understand that this ministry, for indeed ministry is what it is, begins in my home with my husband, and daughters, my parents and siblings, my extended family, and my friends and neighbors. I will attempt to season all that I do with the love of God which I feel so deeply. I will try to be the salt, the good disciple. I will try my best. Who would like to join me?
 Interview with Portugal’s Radio Renascenca, Monday Sept 14, 2015
 Bonnie B. Thurston, Maverick Mark: The Untamed First Gospel. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. 2013. pg xi