In the foothills of the Umbrian mountains from the years 1182 through 1226 the world was privileged to come to know the person of Saint Francis of Assisi. Known as the Knight Errant of Assisi, Francesco Bernardone wanted nothing more than to be a brave warrior in the fight against nearby Perguia. His one wish was that he be welcomed home to Assisi as a hero. What he came to realize, of course, was that God had a very different plan for him. As a young man, while praying in the woods just outside of Assisi in the dilapidated Chapel of San Damiano, the Lord spoke to Francis: “Rebuild my Church, which as you can see has fallen into ruin.” Soon Francis came to understand that the Lord was not seeking for the chapel to be patched up, but for Francis to lead the Church at large into a better understanding of its own need to feed the hungry, care for the poor, and to embrace the least among us. And for the remainder of his life Francis would commit his every action to such an endeavor. And as he lay dying near the Chapel of the Little Portion on the night of October 3rd, 1226 Francis commanded his followers: “I have done what is mine to do, now may the Lord show you what is yours to do.”
Almost 800 years after the death of the Poor Man of Assisi the world has come to know another Francis who has also embraced a life of simplicity and humility. Many have suggested that it was Pope John Paul II who told us WHAT to do, Benedict XVI who told us WHY we do it, and Francis who now shows us HOW to do it. And while not being a papal historian nor a Vatican theologian, I can say as an educator that this is a pretty convincing triad with which we can teach our kids about the Petrine Office. But what is most important during this historical time in the Church is to lift up examples like Pope Francis, like TIME Magazine has done, to show the world that the works of mercy are alive in well in the life of the Church. Gratefully, TIME and its fans came to their senses and had Francis grace the cover and capture the title over the likes of Miley Cyrus, Syrian President Assad and Edward Snowden. The twerker, the dictator, and the traitor up against the Argentinian lover – the lover of the poor, the lover of the helpless and vulnerable, the lover of the Gospel message to serve. No match.
In the end what we have here is an opportunity to celebrate the triumph of love over hate, of peace over war, of humility over arrogance and of trust over betrayal. What Francis has done in his less than 300 days in office (yes, it’s only been that many days) is to take the world by storm with the simplicity of his namesake, Francis of Assisi. Having first paid his hotel bill on the day after his election, personally calling to cancel his newspaper subscription in Buenos Aires, and then opting out of the Papal Palace, Papa Bergoglio has gone on to use his weekly audiences and daily homilies to preach a refreshingly new Gospel message. Perhaps then it is providential that it was Francis of Assisi who was credited with this quote: “Preach the Gospel everyday and when necessary use words.” I suspect when historians look back on this papacy that we have been privileged to witness, they will remember much more about what Pope Francis DID rather than what he SAID. And isn’t that the point for all of us?