Getting in touch with our “inner Pope Francis”

Dr. Conrad Baars

“Have you read any of the work of Dr. Conrad Baars?”

Says one of my dearest friends the other day at lunch. It was one of those conversations where the Holy Spirit had really been on the move. She had mentioned this strange name, pronounced “bars,” a year or so ago when we were chugging down the Georgia 400 in her van to attend a Regnum Christi women’s event. I had forgotten about Dr. Baars until she mentioned him again.

This time I knew Jesus, the Divine Physician, wanted to speak to my heart through the good doctor Baars, as He already had at lunch through my friend. Trying to be efficient –not my strong suit, by the way—I bought two of his books and began with the shortest. Immediately, I was drawn in and pretty soon after, I realized that the terse expression of “emotional deprivation disorder,” was a missing puzzle piece in the story of my life.

Down my maternal line runs alcoholism. And neglect. And rather herculean efforts at what the good doctor would call “self affirmation.” Self affirmation runs the whole gamut from wounded self pity to grandiose self reliance. Virtue lies in the middle. So much of what is wrong with ourselves and our culture lies at the extremes. And, light of all lights, the remedy is not Freudian psychoanalysis or similar bustings open of repressive personal or cultural neuroses. The remedy is not sin and death, as so many (post) modern philosophies and therapies espouse.

Guess who embodies the faithful path of “authentic affirmation?” Yes, your Papa and mine: our Holy Father Francis.

Unlike the saccharine self help remedies of the latest decades of the 20th century, those which tempted us to “get in touch with our inner child,” Pope Francis “says” by his very walk of faith,

“Do you allow Jesus to Love you? Do you receive the gift of your true identity as a son or daughter of God?” Do you give Jesus to others? If not, what or who are you dishing out?”

(Yes, and saying some slang like “dishing out” would be very like him in his wonderful humor, wouldn’t you say?)

If you do receive and give Jesus, as did Mother Mary during her earthly pilgrimage and as does Pope Francis, you cannot live through events like Argentina’s “Dirty War,” and remain in the freedom of the children of God. Really live, as in “alive in God and dead to sin,” as St. Paul exhorts. If you do trust Jesus and give everything and everyone to Him Who is Love, you can be who you are and “set the world ablaze.” Our thoughts, words and deeds will take measure and power from the true font of Mercy and Love.

Last fall, some of us Regnum Christi moms chugged back up (this time) the highway (on the road again!) to attend a morning of reflection for moms at our apostolic school in Indiana. I walked out of that retreat blown away by something Father said. He, very much like our Holy Father, challenged all of us moms present to throw away our evening “balance,” if it was basically a litany of how poorly we had performed. His words about the examen were better than this, but you get the idea.

Instead, Father said, and this I have just as he said it. He said to ask our dear Jesus,

“Lord, show me your Love for me today.” Punto.


What are we waiting for?

In my case, I spent a very long time waiting for my alcoholic mother to love me. What a grace to see things as they are. She is locked up inside. There is no “song and dance” that I can do that will make that go away. On my own, I can hide –or be showy—and, I will never help myself or my broken relationship with my biological mother.

Like our Papa, I can turn to our Lady. Before the white smoke rose, I had already received amazing healing by praying the Novena prayer to our Lady as “Undoer of Knots.” Pope Francis loves this prayer. I know why he does.

The ribbon—that smooth, satin, white ribbon– all flat, flow-ey, free of knots and shiny is meant to express the way our life in Christ is meant to appear to ourselves and to others. Our Lady’s hands, gently cradling the “ribbons,” which are our lives, are conduits for all the graces mankind needs to be himself (herself).

God does not will us in some prison of our own devising or cursed by others in to shame and powerlessness. Modern saints like Pope John Paul II, Edith Stein, and, yes, I believe Pope Francis to be among their number, lived through the cold, iron bars of tyranny. These bars begin in the human heart, hearts hardened by abuse and neglect, hearts that can only pass on to others more of the same.

In March, we have been hearing from Sirach and Isaiah on the distinguishing characteristics of sin and death that oppose life and love. In Sirach chapter 10:12-13, “…the beginning of pride is man’s stubbornness in withdrawing his heart from his Maker; for pride is the reservoir of sin, a source which runs over with vice…” (emphasis mine)

This reservoir catches my attention. In “emotional deprivation disorder,” the heart is like this reservoir, meant for an infilling of faith; in the disorder, the development of the psychic life is arrested. Even among the baptized, in great mystery, we see a “leaking” going on, a leaking of graces due to human-inflicted puncture wounds of neglect, abandonment and abuse. In Romans, Chapter 13, St. Paul exhorts the faithful, “Let us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of life.”

“Let us…” he encourages. We are called to be our brother’s keeper, our sister’s keeper. Interestingly, in the writings I have read thus far by Dr. Baars, he repeatedly exhorts lay persons (in this case, meaning outside of the medical profession) to extend a hand and heart to the emotionally deprived.

Pope Francis, and Conrad Baars, show us this reservoir as it ought to be, a heart filled with love, the heart as the “land” of the Old Testament. Often referred to in the Psalms, I read again of the “land” this morning in Deuteronomy, chapter 11. I felt my heart leap, my eyes clear and my will quicken to the awesome Love of God reaching down deep within me, so ready to extend His Word into me, His daughter. This encouragement from Sacred Scripture could be the mission statement of Pope Francis who points to God as source and destiny of all true loving:

“Take these words of mine into your heart and soul. Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant on your forehead. Teach them to your children, speaking them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. And write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates, so that, as long as the heavens are above the earth, you and your children may live on in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers he would give them.” (emphasis mine)

God has made His promises. Our hearts are meant to be embraced by the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. We must turn in faith to Mother Church and believe God’s Sacraments give us and others what we cannot make or be or do on our own. This should make us all have a big cry and then a big smile! At the end of the day, that beautiful smile Pope Francis gives to the world preaches volumes of the light and love beaming forth from the “land” of this saintly Vicar of Christ on earth.

And we can all say “Amen.”



About Sara Sullivan

Sara Sullivan converted to Catholicism, as a young wife and mother, at age 33. She is married to Jerry over 20 years and mother to Maggie, Joybeth and Jay. She enjoys cooking with her husband, reading, vacuuming and sweeping pet hairs from the family’s six dogs and cats, writing and volunteering as a catechist at her parish. With great joy, she became a member of Regnum Christi in a small chapel in Cumming, Georgia, dedicated to our Lady on Christ the King Feast Day, 2008.
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