March 13, 2013 was a momentous day for the Roman Catholic Church. On that day, the cardinal electors, gathered in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, chose a man from Argentina to be the next pope of the Catholic Church. The choice was a surprise to many. Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio and why should he be the pope?
Since that momentous day, I believe the world has come to embrace this new pontiff with his winning ways: his obvious humility and his warmth and congeniality. Many wonder if this will be the beginning of major changes in the Church. Of course, the matters of doctrine - either moral or theological - will not change nor can they if we are to be true to what the Catholic Church believes and stands for in the world. But one wonders what other things might take place with a new hand at the tiller of the bark of Peter.
In an earlier post (written on January 15 of last year), I stated the following:
In our Christian tradition, we have calls to particular states in life and these are invitations by God to serve him and our sisters and brothers in those states of life. One of my favorite titles that is given to the Roman Pontiff is Servus Servorum Dei - Servant of the Servants of God. This title is a reminder to all of us involved in ministry - whether pope, bishop, priest, deacon, vowed religious or lay minister - that our call is to service. When those of us in ministry become more concerned with our titles and the special recognition that we believe should be ours, then we are in trouble. We begin to lose sight of the fact that we are called to serve others and that should be our most important concern.
From what I have observed to date, I believe the papacy of Pope Francis will be one of service. It is certainly what he exemplified as priest and bishop when he ministred in his native land. There was a signal of this during the homily he delivered on the occasion of his inaugural Mass this past Tuesday:
Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus' three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter even more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross.
He went on to say: He (the Pope) must open his arms to protect all of God's people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt. 25: 31-46).
The world has responded with affection to the emergence of Pope Francis. Our prayers are with him as he begins his papacy. He has modeled himself on Jesus who came not...to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mf. 10:45). In my previous posting cited above, I stated this:
One of my favorite images of Jesus the Servant was that of his getting to his knees to wash the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. A task usually carried out by a slave or servant became that of Jesus....He instructed his disciples that they, too, (and this includes all of us) should go out and wash each others' feet. Only then do we really serve our sisters and brothers.
The picture I have included here demonstrates that Pope Francis takes this admonition seriously (as he did in his previous ministries). Just today it was announced that he would celebrate the liturgy of Holy Thursday (a day on which the symbolic washing of the feet takes place) in a prison for juveniles instead of at the Vatican. May we follow this kind of example in our lives as we strive to serve our sisters and brothers. May God bless Papa Francesco.