This post was originally posted on March 14, 2014 in celebration of Pope Francis' one-year anniversary as Holy Father.
The very first lesson I learned from Pope Francis occurred just minutes after he appeared on the balcony on the day of his election. In a demonstration of utter humility, the new Pope asked the crowds for their prayers and then bowed his head and received those prayers. This was not a rhetorical question on his part. He both needed and sincerely desired the prayers of the people now entrusted to his care. As a Mom, I am often tempted to think that I need to have all the answers - to have it all together in front of my children. The reality that Pope Francis drove home to me in that moment, is that there is no one on this earth who is too exalted to need the prayers of others, even those of whom they have been chosen to lead.
It's all about encountering Jesus.
Over and over again during this past year, Pope Francis has stressed the importance of "encountering" Jesus. In the encyclical Lumen Fidei, the Pope writes "Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love..." When asked what Christmas meant to him his answer was: "It is about an encounter with Jesus". In a homily in September 2013 the Pope explained how this encounter takes place. "Know Jesus with the mind - the study of the Catechism: know Jesus with the heart - in prayer, in dialogue with Him. This helps us a good bit, but it is not enough. There is a third way to know Jesus: it is by following Him. Go with Him, walk with Him.”
Keeping these three elements of encountering Jesus in balance is essential, but not always easy. As a theology student, I spend a good deal of time studying about Jesus and the matters of faith. I have learned the hard way that if I devote all my time to study and neglect time in prayer and that active "walking" with the Lord that I become "disconnected" from Jesus. How do I know this? I miss his presence. I feel an unrest within my heart. I long again for that intimacy with him. It is only in that encounter that my heart is satisfied.
Celebrate your Baptism.
In an address to his Wednesday audience, the Pope did something a little unconventional - he gave an assignment to them: "And do not forget your homework today: find out, ask for the date of your Baptism. As I know my birthday, I should know my Baptism day, because it is a feast day." He went on to explain why he was asking everyone to celebrate the date of their Baptism: "The danger of not knowing is that we can lose awareness of what the Lord has done in us, the memory of the gift we have received. Thus, we end up considering it only as an event that took place in the past – and not by our own will but by that of our parents – and that it has no impact on the present. We must reawaken the memory of our Baptism. We are called to live out our Baptism every day as the present reality of our lives."
Ever the dutiful student, I took his assignment to heart and for the first time since that day, I celebrated my Baptism this year. Guess what? The Pope is RIGHT! Through seeking out the date of my Baptism and actually celebrating it - the reality of my Baptism is something that has come alive to me as never before. Thank you Pope Francis for homework!
Be comfortable being uncomfortable.
I'm a bit of a control freak. And like most good control freaks, I don't like relinquishing the reins of my life to anyone. I have found in my spiritual journey, however, that the Holy Spirit often has different plans than I do.
"The Holy Spirit can make people uncomfortable", Pope Francis said. "Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we are the ones who build, program and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences."
The Holy Spirit has made me uncomfortable on more occasions that I care to count. Each time, yielding to that discomfort is a challenge. When I initially read the Holy Father's words I felt led to answer again the persistent question in my heart - Do I want to be comfortable? Or do I want to be docile? In fact, answering these questions needs to occur on a daily - even hour by hour basis. Through the gift of free will, I know that the Holy Spirit will never impose his plans for my life on me, but rather, he waits for my freely given "Yes". Yet, I also recognize that I cannot give up that desire for comfort and control without his help. And so my daily prayer is: "Lord, help me to trust the Holy Spirit - help me to be comfortable being uncomfortable."
Embrace the grace of shame.
Pope Francis has spoke often during the past year about the Sacrament of Reconcilation - encouraging the faithful to frequent the sacrament. He even tweeted about Confession calling the sacrament a "priviledged place of encountering Christ."
In my own life I have run the gamut of experiences with Confession, from joyfully frequenting the sacrament as a young child, to being absent from it for 20 years, to returning to it in an immature way, to finally seeing it as that privileged encounter with Christ that the Holy Father talks about. My prayer before Confession is often for the gift of honesty and transparency. In light of that prayer I truly appreciated the Pope's challenge to be as direct as possible in the sacrament - something that I find can be very daunting. "And we always have the tendency to hide the reality of our failings. But there is something beautiful: when we confess our sins as they are in the presence of God, we always feel that grace of shame. Being ashamed in the sight of God is a grace. It is a grace: ‘I am ashamed of myself."
I have never considered shame to be a grace. Yet, I know from my own experience, that it has been the times when I have directly and concretely confessed my most shameful sins that I have been able to experience the healing power of the Lord through the Sacrament of Confession most profoundly. Thank you Papa, for teaching me that shame laid before Jesus' merciful love is a grace indeed.
See the person before us.
Pope Francis seems to have a gift to be able to zero in on the person standing before him. Video clip after video clip show him fully engaged with whomever he is speaking with at the time, no matter what is going on around him. It is evident that in that particular moment, that individual has his undivided attention. More than just paying attention to what they are saying, the Holy Father truly "sees" that person as they are - in the fullness of their dignity as a son or daughter of God.
In the busyness of everyday life, I often fall into the trap of getting things done at the expense of really "seeing" the people I interact with. After a year of watching the beauty of these special moments with the Holy Father, I pray that I may imitate his ability to be fully present to the people that the Lord places before me and to see them as he sees them.
If I had to describe the greatest lesson I have learned from Pope Francis this past year I would sum it up in one small word: JOY! Not only does the Holy Father preach joy, he provides an example for the entire world of joy of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. In one short year, Pope Francis has captured the attention of the entire world by radiating "The Joy of the Gospel".
"The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew."
Read the following related posts:
"What's the Big Deal About the Pope Going to Confession"
Pope Francis' Do's and Don'ts of Mercy
Overcoming Careless Words