Pope Francis is indeed a different kind of Pope than we have experienced in a very long time. To begin with, we have never had a Pope who tweets before. Did you know that you can sign up to receive his tweets each day? (@Pontifex) They are simple reminders of what we are supposed to be about as Catholic Christians. It helps to receive these daily reminders.
The cornerstone of Pope Francis’ papacy has been mercy. Each of his messages is cloaked in mercy. His actions have spoken about mercy far and wide. He has welcomed the homeless into the Vatican, embraced people with diseases, and shaken up the complacent hierarchy. He told his bishops that they should be shepherds that smell like sheep. He is certainly calling all of us back to the “Social Gospel.” He is steeped in Catholic Social Teaching and it seems to guide his every step. His spirituality centers on the poor, the marginalized, and the least of the least.
A couple of weeks ago, The Basilica’s Learning department staff attended Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, a powerful new documentary film. It spoke about his papacy as one of mercy and highlighted many of the scenes where Francis embraces all different kinds of people. It also spoke about the reason that he chose the name “Francis.” Pope Francis has a special devotion to St. Francis of Assisi. He identifies with his love of the poor, his compassion for all, and his love of the environment. St. Francis has certainly been instrumental in Pope Francis’ papacy in so many ways.
Recently, Pope Francis, in his most recent apostolic exhortation, Rejoice and Be Glad, wrote about five loves to combat the ills of today’s culture: patience, boldness, joy, community, and prayer. He speaks about having the passion of one who seeks to share the love and joy of believing in Jesus. “Do you let this fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire.”
Do you ask yourself that question: Have you caught fire yet? If not, what will it take for that to happen within you? We long for that kind of love in our lives…love that has no limits, that is all-embracing, that can change hearts. It seems like that kind of love is not sustainable without a prayer life and a community to support us.
In my lifetime I don’t ever remember having a Pope who speaks so bluntly and courageously about how we need to act as Christians. This message of his has been embraced by so many in our church and in our world. The whole world has been watching Pope Francis.
I believe this has made a difference in many areas of our world. Yet there are still those who fear his message, just as they feared the message that Jesus brought. It can be threatening to those who hold onto their lives with brute strength. It can bring freedom to those who are willing to let go of their lives in order to embrace fully the cross with humility and joy.