The Tenderness of Pope Francis

“The reason the world has paused for Pope Francis – if only for a little while – is that so many people sense in him something more than himself; not just God’s truth and God’s justice, but God’s tenderness.”

There is something right now about Pope Francis that is SO attractive, and everyone sees it. The media is enamored with him. The press covers him in such a way that is reminiscent of the way the press followed Blessed John Paul II. Before I go on, Pope Francis’ two predecessor’s were amazing and holy men. In many ways, John Paul II’s witness of joy and happiness lived out in the celibate priesthood placed the seed in my heart to consider being a priest. Pope Benedict, too, was an inspiring and very holy individual. His strengths, unfortunately, largely went unnoticed. During his papacy he was not as, for the lack of a better word, extroverted in front of large groups of people. But, do not let that blind you from what he gave the Church. He is one of the most prolific writers and theologians of our time, and I think, might one day be made a doctor of the church. Even more inspiring, was his simplicity of life. As a result, he was a tangible sign to the Christian faithful on how one should order his life around prayer and solitude with God. So, Blessed (but soon to be Saint) John Paul II and Benedict XVI both have a special place in my heart, but today I wanted to share some reflections on Pope Francis, and how he has affected my heart, and my desire to serve God and His people.

Archbishop Chaput, states above, that “many people sense in him [Pope Francis] something more than himself; not just God’s truth and God’s justice, but God’s tenderness.” For my self, I find myself in awe. Last week I shared with you all how I came to know the Heavenly Father’s love. Pope Francis, is the type of Father I want to be. When I am a priest, what a compliment it would be to hear people say, “Father Steve (remember this is four years away) has a tender heart, and when he challenges me, I know he isn’t condemning me. But rather, he desires for me to grow in holiness and to grow in deeper intimacy with the Lord.” That is what has been conveyed by Pope Francis. He has said nothing new about Catholic Church teaching. But he has done it in such a way that when he speaks, people are first reminded of God’s infinite mercy. He has been such a witness of receptivity. Our Pope, in a beautiful way, is teaching pastors, seminarians, religious, and the lay faithful how to receive each other with the most perfect love; Christian Charity.

Consider for example a some of the most tender moments of his papacy thus far. This past Easter, just after he became Pope, there was a moment in which he embraced a boy (Dominic) with cerebral palsy. It looked like the Pope himself was moved by seeing the boy, so, he went over to him in the crowd and he picked up the boy. Then, he gave him a fatherly embrace and whispered something in his ear. The boy smiled joyfully and his mother was in tears. Later, it became international news and the whole world was moved by the Pope’s tenderness towards Dominic. Later, Dominc’s father said in an interview “God has touched our family all our lives, now, he has touched the whole world with Dominic,” he added.” At the time, this was shocking. That the Pope not only made himself totally available to the people but actually came into their midst. On that day, he not only shared Christ’s love with Dominic in a profound way, but it has become something he is known for, that he will reach out to his flock and get to know them.

Then World Youth Day 2013 happens. The Pope was traveling around Rio in his pope mobile and greeting the pilgrims at world youth day. Then, suddenly, a little boy breaks through security and runs up to the pope. Before the Swiss guards could take him away, Pope Francis invites the boy up into the pope mobile. He gives him a hug. Then later we found out what was said between the Pope and the boy. The boy whispered to the Pope, “Your holiness, I have a secret for you. I want to be a priest.” Francis, now in tears responds, “Young man, you will be a priest, from this day your vocation is set. I will pray for you. Please pray for me.” Then the young boy descends from the vehicle puts his hands in his face and begins to weep tears of joy. This boy’s life had changed. He had encountered the love of Christ in a very real way in Pope Francis. If you have not seen the youtube video of this, I urge you right now to do so. Look it up. It is very moving and brought me to tears.

And so, I go back to Archbishop Chaput’s words once more. The world sees in Pope Francis “God’s tenderness.” We see this in the worlds response to what he says about abortion, homosexuality, and other important issues of today. The wonderful thing is, the World is listening to Pope Francis. Ultimately many media sources may not agree with Francis about these issues, but they represent him in a positive light. Furthermore, Pope Francis is challenging every young man that wants to be a priest, to live out Christ’s love in a radical way; by windows to Christ’s mercy and love that endures forever.

How has he done this for me? Well, he has inspired me to have a greater love and affection for the poor. Recently, I posted this on September 19th in a group on facebook and I’ll restate it here:

“As a young man studying to be a priest, Francis has completely interrogated my life; in a good way. Through his example, I have had to admit that I must have a love for the poor if I truly want to be a compassionate spiritual father to all those that the Heavenly Father has called me to serve. Through out my life, I have been severely lacking in this regard, and because of Pope Francis I have made it a priority at Mundelein (we have opportunities to serve the poor in down town chicago). I say this not to pump up my own chest, but really, to show just how inspiring and Christ like Pope Francis is. We can never forget our fight for the unborn and for traditional family values, but at the same time, we can never forget our poor brothers and sisters, and the difficulties that immigrants face today. Part of the New Evangelization, for priests in training in particular, is making sure that the life that they live, which ought to be devoted to Christ, is consistent with who Christ is. Pope Francis is the man, and has challenged and moved me to become not only a better man, but hopefully be a better brother in christ to my neighbors.”

On Saturday (October 7th), in fact, was my first experience in down town chicago with the homeless. It was incredible and something I hope to do often through out my time here at Mundelein. I will admit, it is not an easy thing. But, this is not an exact quote but Pope Francis recently said that the “The rich can provide for the poor what they lack materially, but the poor can provide for the rich what they lack spiritually.” I can honestly say that I witnessed Christ’s love in a profound way that morning. Every human person is a child of God that is precious in his eyes. Even more, the sincere joy I witnessed in the homeless for very simple acts of kindness, taught me just how much the poor can teach me to trust in God and bet grateful to God for the very simple things in my life.

So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, it is my hope that we all realize that the Catholic Church truly is the Church of Christ. Hopefully, through Pope Francis more and more people will see the heart of Christ in Catholicism. We have a holy pope and a good shepherd, because he truly is living a life conformed to the heart of Jesus Christ. Think about Pope Francis’ example. How has he brought Christ into your life? How has he challenged you to live a life more conformed to the heart of Christ? How has our Pope’s tender heart affected your heart? These are all good questions to consider. Let us be thankful to the Lord for giving us such a good shepherd, who loves with the tenderness of Christ. Let us also allow our hearts to be changed so that we too may love, not only as Pope Francis does, but more importantly, as Jesus Christ loves.

God Bless!

SJD

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