Learning from Pope Francis

The following appeared in Renewal Ministries’ June newsletter.

By: Sister Ann Shields, SGL

I can only speak from externals; I have not met Pope Francis but several characteristics stand out in the very few weeks since his election. I want to share them with you because I think God speaks to each of us through some of the “surprising choices” of the Holy Spirit—if we have ears to hear and eyes to see!

The first reflection was precipitated by his choice of name. It signaled a regard for personal simplicity and humility; a desire to bring God’s peace to a war torn and chaotic world. The choice of Francis indicated a man who was patterning his life and service on the saint whose love for God was all consuming! It reminded me of St. Francis’ call from God to “Rebuild my Church!” in the 13th century.  After the chaos of the sex abuse crisis in the 21st century, we continue to need great leadership so that the foundation can be secured again in Christ. St. Francis embodied a love for the Lord and for God’s people. Through simplicity he led many back to wholehearted dedication to Christ.

Compassion marks the first few months of the Pope’s pontificate. He seems focused on the poor, the disabled, the weak. Even in a crowd of hundreds of thousands he sees them and moves toward them quickly, regardless of his planned event or scheduled destination. He brings to the poor the assurance that they are not forgotten. In fact, they seem to be the first that Pope Francis tries to engage.

Even his choice of residence, the simplicity of his clothing, and his daily decisions to do things for himself, say much about his priorities—about the concrete simplicity of daily living which should challenge all of us.

Regarding the concerns about the present Curia, which have certainly filled our newspapers, Pope Francis has already begun to move—not with noise, but quietly, beginning the needed changes with the formation of the committee. By the time this newsletter is in your hands, much more about the Pope’s actions and intentions will probably be evident. But these observations about his life can help us contemplate some important questions about our own lives, if we are to be part of the solution, and part of Christ’s flock under the shepherding care of Pope Francis.

1. Do I regard myself as steward and not owner of all the earthly things I “possess”? They may have involved hard work on my part, nevertheless they remain gifts from God to be used for His honor and contribute to goodness of life for all those my life touches.

2. Am I aware of the poor and needy around me—not just at holiday times—but day in and day out especially from those who serve me—grocery store, gas station, dry cleaner, pharmacy, restaurant. Do I look at the people who serve me? Am I courteous, kind, and interested in them—where appropriate? Do I regard another’s dignity whether I am serving or being served? We can all serve others—the parish bazaar, the food kitchen, prolife activities—but do we bring Christ? Do we give of ourselves in such a way that Christ can be seen and known and loved through us? It seems to me that this is what Pope Francis is trying to model for us.

3. Am I a true disciple of Christ in my thoughts, words, and actions? Am I hypocritical; do I live a double life—one person in the streets or the workplace, another at home? I am not saying we have to be perfect—we cannot make ourselves perfect. But I am saying that we need to think of others before ourselves. Sister Ruth Burrows in her book The Essence of Prayer tells us that there is in us a sly, unrecognized cunning—that is, a pride which always thinks of self first, takes care of self before anyone else. She says this is the biggest enemy to growing in genuine faith in God. We need to put Him in the center of our lives more and more, in our thoughts and words and actions. He will do the rest if we cooperate.

4. Finally, do I strive to be a genuine instrument of peace in all the situations I daily find myself? Peace is based on knowing the presence of God; it is based on prayer that I might be God’s instrument in every difficult situation I need to participate. It means I give others, even those with whom I strongly disagree, the respect they deserve (even as I disagree with their ideas or proposals).

It’s really not complicated; it’s just very difficult. But if we ask God for the grace daily, even hourly, He will transform us—yes transform us. When we put Him first in our thoughts, relationships, and plans, we will not only grow in faith but we will be an instrument of peace, able to bring the truth, with a genuine heartfelt love, that sets people free.

I have known many very good Popes in my lifetime. Each was given to us for a particular time; from Pius XII to John XXIII to Paul VI, to Blessed John Paul, to Benedict XVI, who while an outstanding teacher, taught us perhaps his greatest lesson, by acknowledging his inability because of age to shepherd the Church in these perilous times. That kind of humility should speak to us and give us the wisdom we need in our lives to make the right decisions for the good of others—small or great.

These are my reflections; I would like to hear what you think and how some of Pope Francis’ priorities are affecting you. These are many lessons to ponder. This quote reflects the disposition the Lord is calling us to have:

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I      cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should      do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do.” (Edward Everett Hale)

Let us not miss the grace being given us individually and collectively. St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!