Throughout this past Holy Week, Christians around the world examined the life of Christ through his passion, death and resurrection. We do this to come to know Jesus more deeply and to get to who he is within our lives.
On Palm Sunday, Pope Francis posed a different question for our reflection when he stated, “We have heard the [Gospel message] the Passion of the Lord, only it does us good to ask the question: Who am I? Who am I before the Lord?” After one full year of his papacy, let us examine how this pope, the first Jesuit pontiff in history and the first one to take the name of Francis, is answering his own question.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio was introduced to the world on March 13, 2013. His first actions when he stepped out on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica began to formulate what would be his papacy. He entered our lives by bowing before us and his first words began to reveal a window into his character: “Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world. I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me.” In an act and in words of humility and trust, his relationship with the world had begun.
We can continue to answer the question of, “Who is this man?” the spiritual leader of over a billion people around the world, by examining his actions through the prism of the week we have just experienced, through the most holy week of the Christian calendar. By reflecting on the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ, we discover more about this man Francis and his first year of papacy.
As Jesus continued his teaching and actions leading eventually to his death, he reached out to the poor, the oppressed and the down-trodden, sometimes challenging the religious leaders of his time. Pope Francis challenges that in order for pastors/shepherds of today to help and love their people, these shepherds need to “smell like their sheep.” This simple phrase illustrated the essence of ministry: the love and caring of people are not carried out from a distance but done with and around the people especially those in need. As some of his Tweets in social media stated, “(Lord), teach us to go out into the streets and manifest our love” and “True charity requires courage: let us overcome the fear of getting our hands dirty as to help those in need.”
On each Holy Thursday, a commemoration of the last meal that Jesus ate with his disciples is celebrated as Catholics experience Jesus’ sharing of himself in Communion and in his serving his disciples by the “washing of their feet.” The pope highlighted these teachings of Jesus during last year’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper by breaking with established local tradition and washing the feet of 12 prison inmates, including two women and two Muslim men. While doing this, Francis said, “To wash your feet is a symbol that I am at your service, but it also means that we have to help each other.”
On Good Friday, one of the most solemn days of the Church calendar, Christians everywhere remember the death of Jesus as they recall God’s teachings of love, forgiveness and mercy. In imitation of Jesus, the pope calls for “mercy above all” as he teaches to withhold judgment in favor of sharing God’s mercy with everyone we meet. Recently, in solidarity with all of us, he demonstrated his own need for mercy and forgiveness as he participated in the confession of sins at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Today, we celebrate, we rejoice in the Resurrection. Pope Francis shares and delights in the Good News of the Gospel message that even in the face of sin and death, Jesus makes all things new. Pope Francis celebrates the Good News of humanity’s sharing in the life of a loving God.
In light of what we know about this man, how can one explain the choice of Pope Francis as Time magazine’s 2013 Person of the Year? Could it be that in a time when the world is torn by strife, where the poor are seen as oppressed, where communities live in the shadows of individuality and materialism, the world hungers for authenticity, craves integrity, and wants for compassion given to those in need?
Perhaps, there is a search for someone who shows that humility can be seen even in the light of popularity, that humanity can be seen in face of vulnerability and that human failing ought to be balanced with mercy. Or just perhaps, for many of us, this man, simply called Francis, helps us to realize that in the suffering, the difficult and, the desperate aspects of our human existence, the risen Lord accompanies us and the hope of resurrection lies ahead.
(Rev. Mr. John Adams is a transitional deacon at Christ the King Seminary. He will be ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Richard J. Malone in June.)