Every once in a while, but sadly seldom I am afraid, my internet news feed spits out something that is so refreshingly wise, thoughtful, and well-written that it is almost impossible to take excerpts for a blog post.

John Gehring’s post yesterday at “Crux” is one such piece of writing. His thoughtful reflections on the papacy of Pope Francis need to be read and meditated upon by anyone interested in the church, the Christian faith, leadership, or corporate life. Gehring’s piece should be read in its entirety and can be found here: http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2014/10/27/what-the-left-and-right-get-wrong-about-pope-francis/

In his piece titled, “What the Left and Right get wrong about Pope Francis,” Gehring suggests that no side in the debate held at the Pope’s Synod on the family can claim victory. The conservatives who are announcing that the forces of truth have put the Pope in his place by removing the softer tone on homosexuality have not won. And the liberals who are lamenting that the Pope has caved in have not lost. Rather Gehring suggests,

the synod process itself was a major breakthrough for a Church that has often stifled debate or rubber-stamped a top-down message. Previous synods have been little more than staged events with the conclusion already written before anyone opened their mouth.

There is a subtext in everything Pope Francis is doing. Whatever the outcome, it is this subtext that is charting a new course for the church. Pope Francis seems to understand that real change has more to do with process than product. This is the Pope, Gehring points out, who has said,

“Speak clearly.” No one must say, ‘this can’t be said. ‘”

In a church with a history of silencing dissent, this is far more radical than any single dogmatic change or policy shift could ever be. Pope Francis understands that for real renovation in God’s house to take place, something more than tinkering with the furniture is necessary. Gehring suggests,

Francis is playing the long game. He is setting his vision on a different horizon than those who are stuck fighting trench warfare over a narrow set of hot-button issues.

While Catholics check off boxes on our ideological scorecards, Pope Francis is calling the Church to a profound spiritual conversion. 

So what is Pope Francis really up against in his struggle for the soul of his church? Gehring has a list of the Pope’s real targets:

His foes are clericalism, legalism, and anything that gets in the way of the joy of the Gospel.

Pope Francis is not only “playing the long game;” he is also playing the deep game. He understands, as he told the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, that,

“We always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change … The structural and organizational reforms are secondary …. The first reform must be the attitude.”

There really is only one question confronting the church. What is “the attitude” that leads to “effective change” and real “reform”?

It is the question Jesus was asked, when he was challenged by a lawyer to prioritize the law and pick the top law out of the Torah.

‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ (Matthew 22:36)

What is the most important attitude for a life lived fully in the light of God? What kind of people do we need to be if we are going to fulfill our true identity as children created in the image of God?

The answer Jesus gave articulates the “attitude” that needs to form “the foundations for real, effective change.”

He said to him, ‘You shall love… This is the greatest and first commandment.’ (Matthew 22: 37,38)

For any change to be authentic and life-giving it must start with, aim at, and be guided and formed by love. Love is the reason for the church. Love is the force that drives the universe and breathes life into the community of faith we call “church”.

As Paul famously said, without love, we are “nothing” (I Corinthians 13:2).

Both “left” and “right” will always get it wrong, unless their goal is to find deep ways to embody and practice the love that Jesus placed at the centre of his view of what it means to be human. You can tinker all you want with the mechanics of church; but if you do not have love, “it is nothing.”

When we start finding our way with hearts that are broken open by love, we will always end up in the right place.