Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papam - We have a pope - Francis

Few of us really understand the life of St. Francis, the young man who renounced everything for the kingdom - in a sense redeeming the life of the rich young man in the Gospel story who just could not bear to leave all to follow Christ. We think of Francis as someone who had this affinity to animals, who was kind and gentle, who had a preference for the poor. And all of this is true. But Francis had a side in him that was steel, a deeply held belief in the power and mercy of God that made him fearless and bold. For this Francis was the same man who went to the Middle East to converse with and hopefully convert the sultan in an effort to end the bloody violence between Christian and Moor. While unsuccessful, he nevertheless revealed a tenacity that would serve the order he was in the process of forming. Such a strength was needed as he set about to be God's instrument to reform and rebuild God's Church.

Such were my thoughts upon the election of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Here one finds a truly humble recipient of God's grace in action. Here one finds a man of courage and conviction,who lives his vocation in the very simplicity of the Gospel - by example - all the while exhorting us to come, follow Jesus.

He reminds me of the Bishop of Digne, the character in Victor Hugo's classic, Les Miserables. The bishop was a humble man, yet one of tremendous courage. He arrived in town and eschewed the huge bishop's palace and instead chose the humble building next door. He gave the palace to the hospital so it could serve the poor, the sick and the elderly. The chapter goes into great detail on the bishop's pastoral approach, his sense of prayer, his generosity to the poor, and his loyalty to the truth of the Gospel.  Thus the reader fully appreciates the charity of the bishop toward Jean Valjean in the momentous scene when he claims Valjean's soul for God.

Perhaps this Successor of St. Peter can do the same for this forsaken and lost world. Perhaps the broken and forgotten, the sick and the outcast will see the gentle and healing touch of Christ in our new Peter. Perhaps the emptiness and the broken promises of the world's temptations will be rejected for the living and merciful embrace of the one true Church. We can only hope.

In Francis one will find a champion for the poor, the forgotten, the oppressed, the unborn, the elderly and the marginalized. Francis will defend the right to life and the dignity of marriage as found in nature and revealed by God. He will support the rights of conscience and the rights of parents to raise and educate their children consistent with their duty as parents. There will be no equivocation with teaching the truth. for only the truth can set us free.

Only in Christ will my soul be at rest. In Him is my hope and salvation.  If all those who are so worried about everything will think - first, I must be reconciled to God and to His perfect will, then God can act through us in a mighty way.   And just as Valjean was transformed by the grace of God through the gentle but honest counsel of the bishop, so each of us, together, can be instruments of God's grace and mercy to a broken and hurting world.

Let us pray for our pope. May God watch over Francis and give him all the grace needed to be a sign of Christ's redemptive love. Amen.