From the moment he stepped out onto the balcony to be introduced to the Church and the world as the newly elected Pope, there was something different about Pope Francis. From the moment he stood before the Church it was evident that he was not the one in charge, God was in charge. Pope Francis had been chosen by God to serve God’s People. Francis stood with us in awe at God’s selection. Francis raised his hand, like a regular human being, and waved his acknowledgment and appreciation to the people of God gathered in the plaza, for their faith and waiting, and acceptance of him.
First, he asked the people of God to pray for him; then he blessed the people of God. He was acting and dressed more simply than other popes had been. He was deciding to present himself less like a worldly monarch and more like a shepherd and fisherman. His own words convey this attitude, when he says a Church that is worldly is “a weak Church, a defeated Church, unable to transmit the Gospel, the message of the Cross, the scandal of the Cross…. She cannot transmit this if she is worldly.” Francis was choosing to lower himself, to be with the people: “Hi, everybody. It’s me. God chose me. We’re together in this. We’ll serve the Lord together. Like Jesus did.” Even his papal motto manifests this attitude, “Lowly, yet Chosen.” Francis envisions a “poor Church for the poor!”
In a homily at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls (April 14), Francis proclaims that “one cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus without the tangible witness of one’s life.” “Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful, between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church’s credibility.”
In that day’s Mass reading from Acts, when the Jewish high priest demanded that Peter and the apostles stop teaching in Jesus’ name, Peter and the apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men.” Jesus had been raised from the dead, after the Jews killed Him by hanging Him on a tree. But God exalted Him at His right hand, as leader and savior, for repentance and forgiveness of sins. “We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit that God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:28-32.)
A Living Witness
Pope Francis says the believer is expected to PROCLAIM Jesus, to WITNESS to Jesus, and to ADORE Jesus. We are accustomed to seeing our popes celebrating Mass and praying; we know they adore the Lord. We read papal statements and hear their proclamations; they faithfully preach Jesus and His Gospel. But in the case of Francis we are all marvelling at what a great “WITNESS” he manages to be as he goes about his daily life. The trappings of the papal office make it difficult for us to see a pope’s humanity. Normally the personality and spontaneity of our popes gets drowned in the trappings of their office; someone has been telling them what papal etiquet dictates, what they are expected to do under the circumstances, by the minute. However, when we find Pope Francis jumping off the pope-mobile to be a brother and a friend to the ordinary Catholic, willing and able to actually stop and help someone in need that he happens upon (Good Samaritan), we see him being like Jesus.
Francis takes every opportunity to show the compassion and mercy of our Lord, for others. This reaching for lowliness and service occurs not only when he is in the limelight; it has long been part of his private life – habits he refuses to abandon just because he has been elected pope. The Gospel is his Way, and Truth, and Life; Jesus is the model for his lifestyle. Francis eschews worldliness, and exudes the Gospel of Jesus. Pope Francis is a great WITNESS !
Authentic Witness: Necessary Tool for the New Evangelization
In preparing this blog entry, I was saddened to discover that the index to my edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not have a reference to “witness”.
But the importance of “witness” is well recognized and taught: ”…[F]or the Church, the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the sametime given to one’s neighbors with limitless zeal…. ‘Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.’…
It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus – the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world; in short, the witness of sanctity.” Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41.
I believe Pope Francis’ living witness to the real Jesus does more to open our Western world to the New Evangelization than we can imagine; this evangelization is the principal ministry our Church owes the world today.
We should all labor in prayer that the bishops and priests and religious, and us one billion Catholic laity will all join with Pope Francis in giving an authentic, living witness to Jesus and His Gospel. Now’s our chance. This is God’s time!
By Frank Summers