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Quiet Thunder: Pope Francis and the Future of Christian Witness | Tonitrus Tacitus

Quiet Thunder: Pope Francis and the Future of Christian Witness


On October 7, 2005 Catholic Herald writer Jose Maria Poirier wrote a column[1] about a shy, self-effacing Archbishop who was rumored to be a favorite in the conclave that ultimately elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the Papacy in April of that same year. Poirier speculated in that piece that this Argentinian Archbishop, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, may very well succeed the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI when the time came.

This “Quiet Thunder from Argentina,” as the article dubbed him, has now vindicated Poirier’s precognitions with his elevation to the Papacy in March of this year. Pope Francis, with his quiet, unassuming demeanor, his concern for the poor, and his visible desire to be among the people, has attracted the admiration of both Catholic and secular observers alike.

As we in the Church and the wider world at large have come to know more about Pope Francis, especially through recent candid interviews, we have come to know more not only about Pope Francis but, I think, about ourselves. The direction we must take going forward is being spelled out through the Holy Father’s recent insights in these interviews, and the time has come for the Church at large to pay close attention to those insights.

It is the following remarks from a recent article[2] that deserve particular attention. Pope Francis remarks:

“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow…The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”

It’s been my observation on a personal level for a long time that those who approach the task of advancing the faith – through either evangelization apostolates, apologetics apostolates, the Sunday homily, or even just personal witness – need to be rooted in the approach just outlined.


As time goes on, we can all sense that we’re living in an atmosphere that has become so vehemently polarized that it’s become hard to breathe. The Church’s efforts to bring others to Christ, and to effect positive social change, have not been effective because the wrong approach has too often been highlighted. Too often, at a personal and collective level, efforts to share our faith can devolve into an attempt to outmaneuver opponents, to be on the defensive. What I think Pope Francis is getting at here is that we have things backwards. When bringing others to the faith, rather than marshaling an army of counter-points we need rather, to make an attempt to meet other human beings where they’re at – to listen patiently to their anger, to take seriously their fears, to listen.

These observations aren’t meant to denigrate the great work that apologetics apostolates, pro-life groups, etc., do for the Church, nor is it some kind of signal to retreat from such work. Any interpretation of the Holy Father’s remarks that indicates such has seriously missed the point. But going forward, we need to be cognizant that sharing our faith first requires letting the person on their other end of our words know that we ‘get it’, we understand where they’re coming from – or we are at least willing to make an attempt to do so. That is the approach that wins hearts. Many who work in advancing the faith have always understood this, but it’s easily forgotten. The Pope’s remarks are a reminder that love for people must be the foundation for the rest of the discussion, or we will lose.

This blog is dedicated to that approach. The posts herein will, I hope, invite those within the Church and without to reflect on the beauty of a welcoming Church that understands people’s deepest longings and that seeks, through Christ, to meet those longings and heal the wounds that we all carry. The title of this blog, Tonitrus Tacitus (loosely translated, “Thunderous Silence”) is a tribute to this approach of the Holy Father, our new ‘Quiet Thunder’ who has, I believe, much to teach us about how to bring the light of truth to others.

One Response to “Quiet Thunder: Pope Francis and the Future of Christian Witness”

  1. Patrick Pullicino says:

    Your photo shows how important it is for me to witness to Christ in my daily life through love for individuals I meet by being humble and non-judgemental. Congratulations on setting up this new blog!

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