Maybe we should take a moment and look at what the word “radical” means in English before we make up our minds on the matter, huh?
Definition of RADICAL1 : of, relating to, or proceeding from a root: as
a (1) : of or growing from the root of a plant <radicaltubers> (2) : growing from the base of a stem, from a rootlike stem, or from a stem that does not rise above the ground <radical leaves>b : of, relating to, or constituting a linguistic root
c : of or relating to a mathematical root
d : designed to remove the root of a disease or all diseased and potentially diseased tissue <radical surgery> <radicalmastectomy>2 : of or relating to the origin : fundamental3 a : very different from the usual or traditional : extreme
b : favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions
c : associated with political views, practices, and policies of extreme change
d : advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs <the radical right>
OK, with lesson learned and we’ve worked over the pronunciation so we can sound like we really know what we are talking about, let’s analyze…(mmm anything to do with anal I wonder…I must look that up). I think we can dismiss the mathematical aspect of the definition. But, what I am hearing from those still stuck in the Church of the Middle Ages (up to 1963), they seem to like things the way they were in a time when we didn’t question authority and only did what we were told. In other words, the OT of the Bible was left to scare us to death (actually the Gospel of the last day of the Liturgical year used to do that for me. You know, the one that starts with “When you see the abomination of desolation…”). And we were “scared straight” into thinking that God was a hairy thunderer who knew everything we did, EVEN in private and would recall all those things during the judgement thing. And God was a vengeful diety who caused the 1906 earthquake to strike down upon a sinful city…wait…that’s what Pat Robertson says about every natural disaster doesn’t he. Well I guess things haven’t changed much. However, what I see in Francis is a return to the “roots” of the faith which is found primarily in the Gospels. A faith that comes from an invitation to love. It is an invitation that can be turned down, it is up to us.
I feel Francis is referring to the tenants of that radical root of faith. Maybe that’s what getting people so riled up. We do have a collective responsibility to care for one another, not just in lip service but in real service. His Jesuit roots call out to that service. There is a place for pomp and deference but pomp should never be the norm, the person is primary. So if prophets disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed, then Francis is a prophet. If his words call us to be lovers rather than gatherers and hoarders, then he speaks the truth of the Gospel. If I show you just how holy I am, I am a little narcissistic. If I demonstrate my holiness through service I am reaching out to “the other” as the Gospel invites me to do. That is what Francis is aiming at. His Jesuit-ness calls for “finding God in all things” and “men and women with and for others.” All of this is not new. It is ancient. We give not asking for anything in return. We reach out to the marginalized to help create community not for own own sake but to create kinship and brotherhood. Where there is wrong, we try to right it. Where there is injustice we fight against it. It is the thing to do. Matthew 7:21 tells us that just calling on the Lord will not “save” us. Doing something for the Lord (and ourselves) to make this creation a wee bit better is far more productive and, I might add, creatively human. Francis is helping us to remember why we are here in the first place. When God looked on his creation he declared it “good.” It is up to us to make it better. In that sense, Francis is radical and it is very cool.
and so it goes…