THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK: Three cheers for Pope Francis

Undated handout photo of the Rev David Clarke, elected Wednesday February 8th 2006 as the new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rev Clarke, who has been minister of Terrace Row Church in Coleraine, Co Londonderry for over 20 years, is the son of a butcher, and his brother played professional football for Sunderland. See PA story ULSTER Church. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo credit should read: PA
Undated handout photo of the Rev David Clarke, elected Wednesday February 8th 2006 as the new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rev Clarke, who has been minister of Terrace Row Church in Coleraine, Co Londonderry for over 20 years, is the son of a butcher, and his brother played professional football for Sunderland. See PA story ULSTER Church. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo credit should read: PA

Pope Francis has revealed himself as someone not afraid to express an opinion, and last week he was at it again.

Some time ago he rebuked priests, telling them that he hated seeing them hankering after the latest model of mobile phone.

Now, he has rebuked pilgrims, priests and even bishops for lifting up mobile phones to take photographs during worship. His words were unambiguous: ’At a certain point the priest leading the ceremony says “Lift up your hearts”. He doesn’t say “Lift up our mobile phones to take photographs”. As one newspaper headline had it, ‘Mass is for prayer not photos’

Of course, church-going has often given occasion to other things. The sonnets of Petrarch, which form one of the foundations of the modern Italian language, have their origin in an event during divine worship. Although Francesco Petrarca had recently relinquished his vocation as a priest, he was at worship one Good Friday evening, when he spotted a woman named Laura, and fell instantly in love with her. Laura was already married, but that did not stop Petrarch from writing the 366 sonnets that became one of the glories of fourteenth century literature.

Likewise, Samuel Pepys confessed that while at worship one Sunday, he spent most of the time ‘looking at Mrs. Butler.’ Thomas Hardy wrote a poem entitled ‘A church romance’, imagining how one of the instrumentalists in the church gallery, ‘seemed to throw, A message from his string to her below, Which said: “I claim thee as my own forthright!”

Pope Francis reminded the pilgrims he was addressing that the purpose of worship was to make a connection with God. A similar sentiment had been expressed by C.S. Lewis who contended that the most satisfying church service was one in which one was least conscious of others, and most conscious of God. No opportunity then for a quick snap!

Jesus often emphasised the importance of hearing, frequently warning, ‘He that has ears to hear, let him hear’. One of his best known parables concerns a farmer going out to sow. Some seed was snapped up by birds, others fell on shallow ground, some was suffocated when it fell among thorns, while other seed produced an abundant crop.

While some call it ‘The parable of the sower’, it should more accurately be called ‘The parable of the soils’. Everything depends on the soil in which the seed rests.

John Keble as a leading figure in the Victorian Church, and author of many hymns. As a boy, he one day asked his father if a particular sermon they had listened to was a good sermon. ‘My son’, his father replied, ‘every sermon is a good sermon’.

He subscribed to the view of an old Puritan who said, ‘Anyone who is careful and teachable will find something for his salvation in every sermon.’ Concentrating on such things dwarfs the need for photographs.

Three cheers for Pope Francis!