Today we celebrate the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ pontificate. In these short years, Pope Francis has done much to continue the work of his predecessors in building a culture of evangelization and inviting each member of the Church to live out their baptismal call as missionary disciples. Several important Church documents have been released throughout his papacy, including Evangelii Gaudium, the Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World, Laudato Si’, the encyclical on Care for our Common Home, and Amoris Laetitia, a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family. Pope Francis has participated in two World Youth Days, made roughly 22 international apostolic visits, and has canonized 885 saints. He called for the Jubilee Year of Mercy from 2015-2016. I would like to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his election by sharing some quotes that characterize his papacy and capture its tone.
1. A Church on Mission
"I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security… More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving. -Evangelii Gaudium, 49
Pope Francis envisions a missionary church—one with open doors to welcome people in, but also for each of us to step out and bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. As Christians, it can be tempting to remain within the safety of our parish and Church community. However, Jesus calls us to “go out to the nations” and encounter the hurting world. Pope Francis reminds us of this evangelizing spirit entrusted to us by Jesus Christ and challenges us to be a Church on mission.
2. The Inherent Dignity of Mankind and Creation
“Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” -Laudato Si, 84
About two years into his papacy, Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’, focusing on our responsibility as stewards of creation. No other pope has dedicated an entire encyclical to the care of creation. In doing so, Pope Francis reminds us that all of the created world helps us to glimpse and better know God Himself. Mankind is the pinnacle of creation, made in God’s image and likeness. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis reminds us of each person’s inherent dignity, made with his or her own purpose, gifts, and mission.
3. The Transformative Power of Christ’s Love
“Jesus’ love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs. He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness…He sees beyond this, to our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity at times sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul. He came precisely to seek out all those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others.” – Homily at Plaza de la Revolución during his Apostolic Journey to Cuba
At the heart of the Christian life is an encounter with Jesus Christ. His love is transformative, life-changing. We encounter Christ in prayer, the sacraments, the parish, in one another. However, we cannot overestimate the importance of our prayer life—of moments throughout each day in which we enter into dialogue with God, offer up our work and sacrifices, remember the needs of others, or give God praise. When we carve out time each day for prayer, we are better able to know the look of Christ that goes beyond the worldly way of seeing things into our dignity as sons and daughters of God.
4. The Role of the Church in the Christian Life
"We cannot understand Christ without his Church, just as we cannot understand the Church without her spouse, Christ Jesus, who gave his life out of love, and who makes us see that it is worth the price.” -Prayer Vigil for the Festival of Families in Philadelphia
I love this quote because it sums up the relationship between Christ and His Church. We cannot know Christ apart from the Church, just as the Church cannot exist without Christ. Christ founded the Church in order to be a place of encounter with Him through the sacraments and through one another. We come to more fully know the love of God in the life of each parish. How can we create communities of encounter in our various parishes? Is the light of Christ truly shining forth in our communities?
5. The Messiness and Joy of Family Life
“I thank God that many families, which are far from considering themselves perfect, live in love, fulfill their calling and keep moving forward, even if they fall many times along the way. The Synod’s reflections show us that there is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems.” -Amoris Laetitia, 57
Pope Francis speaks realistically of human life and love. The family, the domestic church, is not perfect. We are called to learn and grow in love throughout our entire lives, just as we are called to learn and grow in holiness. The family is the place where love is mastered and refined. It is the foundation of society and of the Church. Pope Francis calls families to journey joyfully on the path of love. He invites us not to fear our imperfection, but to keep moving forward in hope and joy.
6. Not Letting Fear Impact Vocational Discernment
“The work of discernment identifies our fears and can then help us to overcome them, opening us to life and helping us to calmly face the challenges that come our way. For us Christians in particular, fear must never have the last word but rather should be an occasion to make an act of faith in God… and in life!” -Message for World Youth Day Panama
In preparation for the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment and World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, Pope Francis spoke of the process of discernment, especially for young people today. Fear is often at the heart of our actions—or inaction. Christians, however, have no cause for fear. As we discern God’s call for our life each day, let us place our trust in Him and act with courage and boldness. God has created us for a unique mission that only we can fulfill in His Church. Let us discern his will for us, as Pope Francis encourages, “trusting that he will lead us to a good end.”
7. The Importance of Contemplating and Encountering God’s Mercy
“We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it.” -Misericordiae Vultus, Bull of Indiction for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy
Starting in 2015, Pope Francis instituted the first Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church. Throughout this time, he invited the Church to contemplate once more the merciful gaze of the Father and experience God’s mercy in our lives. We cannot be merciful without first having personally experienced the mercy of God. I loved that as a Church, we dedicated a year to contemplating this great mystery. We know God as Father, Savior, Creator, Just Judge, and many other titles. But how often to experience His mercy, as evidenced in the parable of the Prodigal Son and in the story of Jesus meeting the Woman at the Well?
8. Our True Identity
“That is our real ‘stature,’ our spiritual identity: we are God’s beloved children, always. So you can see that not to accept ourselves, to live glumly, to be negative, means not to recognize our deepest identity…God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind…God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess…In his eyes, you are precious, and your value is inestimable.” -Homily at World Youth Day Mass in Krakow
At World Youth Day in Krakow back in 2016, Pope Francis reminded youth and young adults of an incredible universal truth : that our identity lies in being God’s children. In a world so often focused on our careers, material possessions, prestige, or online presence, Pope Francis gets to the heart of our identity as being completely loved by God. It’s easy to forget that we are loved simply because we exist. We all hold a valuable and irreplaceable space in God’s heart. By being most authentically ourselves, we are better able to fulfill our mission within His kingdom and become the saints He wants us to be.
9. Using Technology and Social Media Wisely
“Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society…Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world.” -World Day of Communication 2016
We live in a world saturated by social media, technology, and widespread communication. Used irresponsibly, these can isolate and distract mankind. Pope Francis encourages people today to use technology and social media in order to promote a culture of encounter and accompaniment. He challenges us to be “digital citizens” who are not afraid to use technology to spread the Gospel.
10. Being People “For Others”
“Love has no alibi. Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor.” -Message for the First World Day of the Poor
In 2017, Pope Francis called for the first World Day of the Poor—a day in which we act not only in word, but in deed in order to alleviate poverty and accompany those on the margins of society. Pope Francis encourages the world to give and not to count the cost, to love as God first loved us. In a culture of consumerism, we can easily forget to think about our neighbor or those less fortunate than ourselves. Pope Francis reminds us of the importance of giving freely, drawing near to the poor, embracing them, and being transformed through that process. Click here for free resources on Catholic Social Teaching.
Question for Reflection: Do you have a favorite quote from Pope Francis’ papacy that’s not listed above? Share it in the comment section below and let us know why it’s powerful for you.
Two weeks ago, I was walking from my cozy warm apartment in the Northeast part of Washington, D.C. to Union Station to meet up with a friend for dinner. It was 18*F (-7*C) outside and the wind was just starting to pick up. There were forecasts of snow in the next few days. I was bundled up with a wool sweater, socks, jacket, scarf, and gloves. About ten minutes into my walk, I started to regret my decision to walk and wondered if I should’ve called a cab. As I approached Union Station, I could see the Capitol building lit up in the distance. It was there that I saw 8 people lying on the streets completely covered with layers and layers of clothing and blankets. I immediately forgot my own brief and temporary plight. It was a stark and chilling reminder of the great poverty that still exists not only in other countries, but right here in the United States in our capital city.
Each January, the Church in the United States recognizes Poverty Awareness Month and takes up Pope Francis' challenge “to live in solidarity with the poor.” Last year, Pope Francis called for the observance of the very first World Day of the Poor. This call was not just for faithful Catholics, but for people of all nationalities, creeds, and socioeconomic backgrounds. As he said in his message for the first World Day of the Poor, “Love has no alibi. Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor.” The church and world responded with countless acts of charity and kindness to the poor.
Poverty is a massive issue with far too many heartbreaking statistics for us to consider it on only one day each year. It is a concern that needs constant attention and awareness that we can cultivate on a daily basis. Poverty does not simply come in the form of homelessness, but can manifest itself in many different ways. It can be manifested in our neighbor who has to choose between buying prescriptions or groceries, or in the child who cannot focus on school because they have not eaten the proper food they need. It can be manifested in the single mother who cannot afford childcare while she works.
Each of us can work towards helping to alleviate poverty. Here at The Catholic University of America, we run a large number of different programs throughout the year that highlight various forms of poverty and ways to help. Twice a year we have massive service days during which we send nearly 900 students to help local organizations that serve the poor. Every week we have twenty opportunities for students to serve the poor across seven different service sites. Some of these include going to soup kitchens or after-school centers and volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity. One of the most highly attended opportunities is a recurring homeless food run in which students take food and supplies to areas of D.C. with large homeless populations. The students do not simply pass out food, but sit and talk with the homeless. They get to know poverty on the most human level possible. They offer their resources, time, and love to those in need.
These types of efforts enable us not only to give the poor material goods and the gift of our time, but also help us personally grow. Walking in solidarity with our brothers and sisters and encountering them leaves us transformed. As Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium, “This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them…” Throughout the year, I encourage you to consider participating in or making your own outreach to help those in need—and to bring a friend. Let us allow ourselves to be evangelized by the poor, live in solidarity with them, and work to alleviate their suffering. As St. Vincent Pallotti, the patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, reminds us, “Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well.”
Questions for Reflection: What are some concrete ways you can help alleviate poverty? Has a personal encounter with the poverty of another ever impacted your spiritual life?
This past September, a colleague and I traveled to three cities in the U.S. to discuss with local ministry leaders ways in which Catholic Relief Services (CRS) could engage young adults. Our basic question was this: How can CRS contribute to the conversations folks in their 20s and 30s are already having around issues of peace, justice, and global solidarity?
Two very clear, and slightly discordant, ideas emerged. The first: folks in their 20s and 30s want to offer their time to serve those in need. The second: we as Church might do better to shift from doing good for a world in need to being good for our world.
What do I mean by this? The instinct to do good—to be a service to others, to give of ourselves, to respond in charity to the Gospel invitation to love our neighbor—is something to be applauded. In fact, integrating service into young adult ministry was a priority we heard time and again during our conversations.
But not all world-changing, do-good ideas are created equal. In fact, some can be quite harmful. (For one example from some of CRS’ work that illustrates this general point, check out our Changing the Way We Care initiative on orphanages.)
I’m not saying we shouldn’t dedicate time, talent, and treasure to helping those in need—both in our own communities and around the world. But we should challenge ourselves to be intentional about our initiatives, to investigate the real impact of our efforts—both intended and unintended. We should also ask ourselves who we are really serving: our own sense of self-worth or the real common good.
I write all this by way of reflection on Pope Francis’ calling for a World Day of the Poor, the first of an annually recurring day that begins November 19, 2017. (Click here to read about it in the pope’s own words.) When we think of poverty, our knee-jerk reaction may be to rush to the nearest shelter with old clothes in hand. It may be to donate to a worthy cause. It may be to jump on a plane and fly across the world ready and able to build a house for a family without one.
None of those things are bad, right? People need and deserve clothing and shelter, and charitable donations fuel so many organizations like my own. But intentionality demands that we challenge our own assumptions. Is the local shelter looking for the kinds of clothing I’d like to give, and do they have capacity to sort through them? Does that distant country need me to build a house, or is there a local engineer who is better able to accomplish the job? Do I know what percentage of donations an organization puts toward actually helping those in need?
These are questions I myself have had to wrestle with, and the answers are different in every situation. But they must be asked. Why? Because they help me remove my own ego from the situation and instead make room for the true needs—and solutions—of others.
Pope Francis challenges us to go beyond the doing—which is unmistakably important—to inhabit a new way of living: “We may think of the poor simply as the beneficiaries of our occasional volunteer work, or of impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience. However good and useful such acts may be for making us sensitive to people’s needs and the injustices that are often their cause, they ought to lead to a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life.”
So, then, as we reflect on this first World Day of the Poor, I challenge all of us to not simply do good, but to be good—to integrate God’s vision for humanity not simply into our acts of charity but into our daily choices, our lifestyles, and our long-term goals.
Question for Reflection: How can you follow Eric's advice and not only do good, but be good?
Interested in joining CRS in conversation around these issues? Join our new initiative for folks in their 20s & 30s CROSSROADS en el camino.
To learn more about Catholic Social Teaching, please click here.