Five From Francis

A child takes off Pope Francis' white zucchetto, or skullcap, during a meeting with children and volunteers of the Santa Marta Vatican Institute, at the Vatican

Photo: AP/Gregorio Borgia

Today marks the first anniversary of Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio’s election to the Papacy, and the end of the first year of the Church’s walk under the guidance of Pope Francis. A year ago, I posted five thoughts on the Holy Father’s election. Today, I post five of his most memorable quotes from the last year along with my reflections on those quotes in light of his shepherding of the Church so far.

Bishops and priests must be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.” —Chrism Mass Homily, Holy Thursday, March 28, 2013.

Pastor—the word used in the United States from both Catholic priests and Protestant clergy—comes from the Latin verb pascere, meaning “to lead to pasture” or “to shepherd.” Yet clergy in our culture, and many others, are seen as set apart from mere laypeople. Popular preachers write best-selling books, build personality cults around themselves, and become rich off their flocks. Catholic priests surround themselves with an aura of mystery based on their Sacramental calling. Bishops and church leaders cozy up with the rich and the powerful while overlooking Christ in the powerless.

Francis sees the hypocrisy, and wants it to change. He knows that the Good Shepherd lays his life down for the sheep, and leaves the ninety-nine to chase down the one that is lost. He knows from his days as a priest and bishop in Buenos Aries, washing the feet of the poor and of prisoners what it means to “live with the smell of the sheep.”

“A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.” —From an address to the 38th annual conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the the United Nations, June 20, 2013

Catholic Social Teaching demands nothing less, especially in an era in which so much goes to so few while the rest are left wanting. Each person, regardless of their wealth or poverty, of their power or powerlessness, is made in the Image of God. The wealthy and powerful can care for themselves. They only need our prayers lest they forget their dependence on God. The poor and the powerless have no one to trust in but God, which makes them the closest to him. It is up to us—the relatively affluent by global standards—to see Christ in them and be sure that they are not forgotten.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”  —said to a reporter on July 28, 2013.

Perhaps his most famous quote. With this one line, Francis didn’t change a jot or tittle of the Church’ teaching, but for the first time he spoke of gay people as human beings, made in God’s image, who can say “yes” to God just as we all can and should. It’s easy to judge others when they do things we might disapprove of yet are “lucky” enough not to be tempted to those actions ourselves. It’s harder to look honestly at our own faults and temptations. “Who am I to judge?” Who are any of us to judge. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Instead of judging each other, let’s pray for one another instead.

“If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself.” —from A Big Heart Open to God, the exclusive interview with Pope Francis in America Magazine, September 30, 2013.

St. Paul said “now I see in a glass darkly, then I will see face to face.” St. Augustine said “we are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do understand, then it is not God.” Human pride is an extraordinary thing. That we can stand in the presence of God—in prayer and in the Sacraments—and dare claim to know all the answers is laughable. If God weren’t so merciful and so understanding of our faults he’d surely strike us down on the spot like a character in a Far Side cartoon. But he puts up with us, and the fact that he does should humble us. His love for us is the foolishness that dwarfs our wisdom.

“The Church is not a tollhouse; it is a house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone.” —from The Joy of the Gospel, November 24, 2013.

Catholics love Francis, Christians love Francis, and non-Christians of every belief and non-belief love him too. It’s easy to see why. He is truly a Christian in the original meaning of the word—a little Christ. Humble, loving, welcoming everyone who approaches them for who they are. Flawed, stumbling, but always hopeful. These were the people who sought Jesus out during his ministry, and continue to seek him out through the Church. Francis keeps the door open to them and invites them to enter.

Come as you are, as God made you, leaving only your sin at the door. There is a place for you here.

Amen.

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