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Pope Francis on Power as Service

March 20, 2013

I’ve been quickly becoming smitten with our new Holy Father, despite (like most everyone, it seems) not having given him much consideration before he was elected.  The homily he gave at his inaugural Mass sealed my positive impression.  First, in recognition of the feast of St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church, he expounded beautifully on St. Joseph’s role as “protector” as a universal model.

How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own. This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading. God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit. Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!

The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!

Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.

Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!

And then came the clincher, showing a powerful vision of his own exercise of the Petrine ministry:

Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. 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 that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he 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). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!

This is a beautiful expression of the kind of servant leader he intends to be – as apparently he already has been.  May his ministry continue to be inspired by the humble service of our Lord!

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3 Comments
  1. March 21, 2013 4:30 am

    Dear God, I wouldn’t have believed it could happen but I’m “smitten” by him, too, especially when I learn things like THIS.

  2. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    March 21, 2013 1:34 pm

    dismasdolben,

    Please don’t take this as harp on one’s infatuation, but I think as a smart person, and very knowledgeable person on RC matters as you have overtime shown yourself to be, there is an easier read for your crush. Look, when the real enemies of the RC church try to say that there is nothing good in the tradition, they are just making themselves look silly. All anyone needs to do is read about the past, and they will find some very good skeins in the long-term praxis of this ancient institution. So, when this man Francis the Pope seems to embody some of the good pragmatism and real-world candor about things from diplomacy to identifying decently with the real condition of poor people, it rings a bell. The bell is the reminder that there is something good to be identified with specifically, and not just the sometimes choking fumes of dogged loyalty to a faith they grew up in. There is a reason for BOTH possible infatuation (for those so inclined) and a sober hope that this massive organization will start using its equally massive potential influence for good purposes. The world could use some help, in case anyone has not noticed recently.

    The long-term issue for them in the first world is more complex. If statistics are to be believed, and one wonders due to their incredible findings. Namely, more people (a simple majority) reject utterly the RC faith of their youth (and often bespoke schooling) in their adulthood, than those who keep to it. I always wonder how apologists for the institution can speak with a straight face about the success for their endeavors — whatever they are! — when in the background there is the statistical reality that most people partaking in their endeavors are going to simply spit it out when they get old enough to make their own decisions.

    The disjunct seems to be that those apologists still — delusionally? — assume a pre-religious liberty ambit for their faith, while of course paradoxically always invoking that liberty when needed. This means narrowly, that they assume that they assume that the RC church is just “a given” in world affairs and in people’s lives. Time to wake up from those dogmatic slumbers. There is nothing “given” about the faith they profess in most human beings’ lives — even in those ironically who grew-up that way. What this means constructively, is not that they just need to deliver good news, but show in their own lives that it is good news. Here they have a giant task for which they are ill prepared. For those with close connection to the RC church that there is precious little congruence there. Such congruence doesn’t matter when you are just a “given”. But if you have to actually show yourself to be a good idea in the marketplace of ideas (and btw I am not endorsing such as the final arbiter, just describing prevailing social conditions), then you have a tougher road to hoe.

    The real question is how will Francis’ equally “pragmatic” greeting of Mugabe fit into all this, and in his care for the poor. Clever like a fox can be a good thing. But too clever by half is not. Virtue is always in the middle in human life. O Magnum Mysterium!

  3. Chris Sullivan permalink
    March 21, 2013 4:00 pm

    The more I learn about Holy Father Francis, the more I love him !

    It’s been a wonderful week to be Catholic.

    The Holy Spirit is breathing new life into the Church and moving us forward into the 21st Century.

    Leonardo Boff told Der Speigel that Cdl Bergoglio recently approved the adoption of a child by a gay couple.

    I love this more pastoral approach, which comes from a man who has lived the gospel in humble pastoral service and has learnt from that experience.

    God Bless

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