“How beautiful are the footsteps of those who bring Good News” (Romans 10:15-17)! With these words of Isaiah quoted by Saint Paul, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI warmly greeted the cardinals, bishops, and educators assembled at The Catholic University of America during his April 2008 apostolic visit to the United States. Seven years later, Pope Francis will be following in the footsteps of his predecessors as he brings the Good News to our nation. He is the fourth pontiff to do so. While the good news of Christianity itself hasn’t changed in two thousand years, its Argentine messenger is certainly electrifying the faithful with his personality of joyous humility, simplicity, and compassion evident in the course of his evangelization--specifically renewed calls to holiness and having an unreserved love of neighbor. And yet, it is all too easy to become lost in the so-called “Francis effect” (and attempts to get a papal selfie) and forget to pay attention to the message of His Holiness. A visit by the Vicar of Christ is certainly a rare occasion to be celebrated, but when it comes down to it, are we honoring the man visiting us or the One who authored the Good News in the first place?
I remember first reading the interview published by America magazine conducted by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J. with the newly elected Pope Francis, desiring to hear from the man himself instead of the wild speculations and analysis drawn up by the media. To answer the first question of “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” the pope candidly responded, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.” I was deeply touched to be able to identify with the earthly head of the Church in this way, thinking, “The Holy Father is a sinner… like me?!” But remaining a sinner is not what we are called to be as Christians. Accepting his election as pontiff, Pope Francis replied, “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.” These words are truly fitting for the “Servant of the servants of God”: a humble acceptance of God’s will and the call to give witness to His love by carrying one’s cross and serving others in imitation of Christ.
We frequently see the Holy Father’s simple and charitable acts of love in global headlines. In a world so unfamiliar with loving one’s neighbor, it’s really no wonder why people find this shocking and out of the ordinary. But each of us, no matter our status, is called to give the same loving witness in our daily lives— love is our mission, after all! Remember that these acts, no matter how small, are an especially meaningful aspect of our Faith:
Because Christ is the source of all our good works and is himself the truth of our faith, there is an indissoluble union between truth and love. It is the truth of our faith that guards our charitable works from becoming empty philanthropic endeavors. Our faith makes our charitable works building blocks of the Kingdom of God here on earth, blocks that can be used to build the Church on the cross of Jesus Christ. Our charitable work, on the other hand makes our faith visible and a real part of the world in which we live. The living truth of faith makes our works really good, and our good works reveal a true and living faith. (To see the full text, click here.)
His Holiness is certainly aware that the eyes of the world are fixated upon his every deed. Instead of accepting the praise and lauds, he quietly continues to make each an opportunity for evangelization in the hopes of inspiring others to begin to tend to their neighbors.
When Pope Francis arrives in the United States next month, remember to take the time to pray for him as he spreads the Good News, that God may grant him the strength, courage, and wisdom needed to touch hearts and that our Lady may grace him with her continued protection. Especially take the time to worship and adore the Author of Love who perpetually resides in the tabernacle of your local church— drawing near to Him requires no special security clearance, rank, or ticket, simply an open heart and a willingness to listen. Finally, pray that once Shepherd One (the name for the Air Italia plane the pope flies in) has departed for Rome, the seeds planted by His Holiness will grow to inspire us to continue the mission of love which has been entrusted to each of us.
For more information on Pope Francis' Apostolic Journey to the U.S., please click here.