Like Francis of Assisi, our Holy Father is calling us back to the great saint who “rebuilt Christ’s Church” by living a life of sheer simplicity and charity.
St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis: “Rebuild my House”
Let us take this opportunity to welcome our Holy Father Francis and to promise him our prayers and obedience. The Cardinals in conclave emerged this past week as men of the Spirit. For they have picked the first non-European pope in well over 1000 years; and, they picked the first religious priest since Pope Gregory XVI (d. 1846)—a member of the Camaldolese, a barefooted order of Benedictines, living as hermits, founded in 1012 by St. Romuald. In doing so, the Pope’s electors have revealed to the world what it is they want from the next pontificate.
In picking a non-European, we are seeing how the Church is realizing, more and more, her name “Catholic” (universal). In selecting someone from South America, the Cardinals understand the struggle happening in lands where the Faith was once obvious, but is now under siege by false “missionaries” preying on the uncatechized; where the promises of the Faith are questioned by the faithful, who are deprived of so many basic essentials that we, in the West, have come to expect. Like the one and only Shepherd, Jesus Christ, our Holy Father Francis is at home with the poor, and those on the margins of society. Whether it be pictures of his traveling humbly on foot, or of his washing the feet of those most neglected, the images portrayed in the press of Pope Francis show his very real compassion and humility.
When John Paul II died, a wise old Jesuit said to me, “I have no idea who the next Pope is going to be, but I guarantee you he will take the name Benedict.” When I asked why he was so sure, he responded: “Any man worth his salt in this Church today knows we need to return to prayer and work. It’s that simple.” In choosing a Jesuit priest, the Cardinals may well be saying to the world now that the spirituality of the everyday, the hallmark of the Society of Jesus, is what we need today.
That is, in choosing a Jesuit this time around, the Church is called to “find God in all things,” the call of St. Ignatius to all those who have followed him. The Ignatian vocation is based on seeing one’s experiences, and how one responds throughout the day, as the locus of God’s activity. This is not to say that God is not found in the Church, and in her teachings, sacraments, and worship. Of course, that is the case, as Ignatius coined the term “hierarchical Church.” However, God is at work in every creature, and in every encounter, throughout our day, not just at Mass or simply on Sunday morning. The key to true holiness is to be intentionally aware of this divine laboring within and around us.
Furthermore, in the Pope’s selection of the name Francis (the first pope to take an original, non-compounded pontifical name, since Pope Lando in 913!), I could not help but see a bit of humor on the part of our Holy Father in making this decision. He knew how some would automatically assume he was referring to Francis “of Assisi,” while his Jesuit brothers watching across the world would automatically assume he referred to fellow Jesuit, Francis “Xavier.” But like Francis of Assisi, our Holy Father is calling us back to the great saint who “rebuilt Christ’s Church” by living a life of sheer simplicity and charity.
Truth and love are one in the Christian story. We cannot know Christ unless we are willing to love as Christ loves, and this, Deo gratias, is how the world is being introduced to our new, visible head. He is a man of the streets, a priest of the people, a leader who shows the way through service. The Holy Spirit, no doubt, has raised him up this day to rebuild Christ’s Church, hopefully getting clerics to be less clerical, the scandals less scandalous, sinners less sinful, and maybe even us Jesuits a bit less jesuitical.
Let us, therefore, offer him our service, primarily through our daily prayers at every Mass, and with every rosary. Let us pray that our Church may grow in unity, in number, and in holiness. We welcome and we thank you, Pope Francis, and we assure you of our daily remembrances.
And each of you readers, be assured of my daily prayers and monthly Mass.
-Fr. Meconi, S.J., HPR Editor