The hit Broadway musical Rent asks the very profound question, “how do you measure a year?” After laying out the idea that perhaps it’s 525,600 minutes, the song really never goes on to answer the question instead leaving us pondering how exactly we measure our own lives. So 1 year into this transformational pontificate of Pope Francis of Argentina, how could we possibly measure his effect on not only the lives of Catholics but on the life of the world? After all, everywhere you turn these days you see another article (or blog like this one) about the so-called Francis-effect. Every attempt to capture exactly what Papa Bergoglio has done in his first year highlights not only his words but his actions. “By these,” Jesus said, “they will know you are my disciples.”
One year in and here’s what we know:
- Pope Francis lives like Saint Francis. Humility, service, outreach to the marginalized, and a genuine love of the Gospel mandate to welcome home the poorest among us. That “home” is in the arms of a Church that is compassionate, gentle and ever-present to the least among us. The radical message that Pope Francis brings to the Church of the early 21st century is no different that what his namesake, Francis of Assisi, brought to central Italy during his own life (1182-1226). Namely, the Church of the proud, the Church of the arrogant, the Church of the closed-minded is the Church of yesterday. Instead, the people of God are in fact the Church and it is our duty and our salvation to welcome the least of our brothers and sisters into the love of Jesus Christ. Talk about a shift in focus! And while the Church has always been concerned about this charism of the Gospel, it is Pope Francis that has not only taught this but has lived it: just the like the man from Assisi.
- Pope Francis has captured the world’s attention not by what he has said but by what he has done. Just look at the last week’s reviews on his first year. Most have been a retrospective of pictures and not a review of his writings. Very few references to his first encyclical letter, The Light of Faith, and even fewer references to his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. Why? I suspect that it’s because when all is said and done, the world will long remember this man not for his writings but for his actions. The embracing of children, the blessing and kiss for the disfigured man, the visits to the slums, and the impromptu stops among the people, are all of the moments seared into the memories of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Thanks be to God! After all, isn’t this what Jesus called us to be: people of action?
- Pope Francis was a man destined for this very moment in Church history. I have heard it said (so I can’t claim is as my own) that Pope John Paul II told us what to do, Benedict XVI told us why we do it, and Francis is DOING it. Interesting take, I think, on the link between the popes of my lifetime. Of course, this is a sweeping generalization and it is not meant to diminish the gifts of these three men. Nevertheless, it does give us some insight into the work of the Holy Spirit in our Church. As Catholics we believe that when a conclave happens the Holy Spirit has already chosen the next pope. It’s just that the cardinals need to figure out who the Spirit has chosen! When look at through the prism of faith it makes complete sense as to why this humble servant from Argentina was thrust on to the world stage at this very moment in our history. The Church is in need of great reform. But perhaps it’s not doctrinal reform or theological reform because Francis has not changed a single teaching of the Church. The Reformation of Francis (or the Francis Effect) is quite literally a call to action to the one billion Catholics around the world to rise out of complacency and indifference into a mindset of love in action. We are not simply a contemplative Church, we are a Church of action. I like to say that the most important words of the Mass (beyond the words of consecration) are these: “The Mass is ended. GO!” Why? Because it’s easy to have faith INSIDE the walls of the church. It’s easy to love your neighbor INSIDE the walls of the church. But the Gospel mandate is not about what we do for one hour on Sunday, it’s what we do OUTSIDE of the walls of the Church!
So as we come to the end of Francis’ first 525,600 minutes as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, it’s probably a perfect time for all of us to ask, how am I spending my days as one of the Lord’s followers? Jesus never said “say what I say”. Remember what the Lord said to us at the Last Supper when he washed the disciples feet? “As I have DONE so you also must DO.” As you can see, we don’t have to look far to see how much of an impact we can have in a very short time if we focus on the simple things!