Thursday, March 16, 2017

Francis: Four Stars in His Soul

March opens the fifth year of the Pontificate of Pope Francis. Four years of a brief but eventful Pontificate have passed, a Pontificate that has been innovative, fruitful, renovating, and transforming.

How can we summarize the personality and the Pontificate of Francis? What can we say about the First Latin American Pope in the millennia-long history of the Catholic Church?

We should start by acknowledging and celebrating that he is a human being, very human, deeply human – with all the meaning defined by and contained in "human" and "humanity." That is to say, Francis is a human being who, in his deep humanity, reveals his deep divinity, a human being who reveals the image and likeness of God, the imprint of our existence.

Countless deeply human gestures and words have defined his life and work – words and works through which he has been a vehicle of the divinity in his humanity and for all humanity. In Francis, we have a Bishop of Rome and Head of the Church who is above all else a "human" man. He is as human as that man from Assisi, recalled in the name our Pontiff chose for his Pontificate.

His profound human experience and humanity lead him - like Jesus - to approach the weak, the most needy; to address the causes of the marginalized and to raise his voice in favor of peace for justice, peace for solidarity and merciful respect for all, especially for the impoverished and neglected on Earth.

This profound humanity reveals the "style" of Francis and, like the philosopher Protagoras, we can say of Francis "the style is the man." His style is the measure of all things, the measure, character, and seal of everything he is and does, of his entire Pontificate.

Francis is a Christian man. He is convinced of the causes of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which spring from the recognition of God as Father in whom we are all brothers and sisters, with a fraternal, merciful and universal love, in the way the good Father in Heaven loves us. The authenticity of his Christian life is not an addition to his person. On the contrary, the Gospel is the essence of his being and is revealed in all his human behavior.

In the life and missionary work of Francis, humanity and Christian life are not an incoherent, self-righteous, and hypocritical juxtaposition. No. Francis is a human being animated by the Gospel of Christ, a Christian in his deep humanity.

Francis is a Christian who has dedicated his life to pastoral and priestly ministry, first as a Jesuit priest, later as a Bishop in Argentina, and now as a successor of Peter in the Catholic Church. His ministerial, priestly, and pastoral works have demonstrated his life as deeply human and, therefore, truly Christian.

In our historical moment, the style of Francis is novel, contradictory, and shocking; the Gospel is always novel, because the life of the Gospel in the world engenders contradiction and because the logic of the Gospel clashes with the logic of the world.

The novelty of the Pontificate of Francis - here and now - is explained by the evangelical nature of his Pontificate, by the honest attachment of his papal ministry to the logic of the Gospel against the logic of the world.

This evangelical authenticity has rapidly made Francis a spiritual and moral reference for all humanity. This is evident in his vast influence in just four years as Pope, in the interest he arouses around the world, in different societies and social groups, in the media, in his interactions on social networks, and in every public appearance.

Francis reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth remains in force and - without having participated as a council priest - that the Second Vatican Council - like the Gospel - is about to be premiered, especially in this transition period of Modernity to Postmodernity, a period so in need of the human and merciful behavior of Jesus, of the logic of the Gospel and of the proclamation of the Gospel in a genuine, simple, straightforward, and unambiguous manner, as Jesus did and taught in his time.

As I said earlier, the style of Francis is a shocking style. The style of his Pontificate raises blisters because it purifies, renews, ignites, and burns; it neither marries itself to the status quo nor to an age-old, immovable, petrified tradition, nor - as he himself has denounced – is it corrupted by the need for movement, light, clarity, and renewal in the Gospel of Christ.

In his famous parable, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard tells of a clown who found it impossible to convince the inhabitants of a nearby town of a fire in his circus. Due to the clown’s manner and dress, the countrymen thought it was a joke meant to attract them to the circus. The circus burned.

Today, everyone agrees that, with the style of his evangelizing work, Francis overcame the problem posed by Kierkegaard, because Francis comes and convinces. His task is credible because it is consistent. Francis has shown that it is possible to break the old, obsolete, and antiquated molds in which the Gospel has been transmitted with the “smell of sheep,” in order to approach the men of our time, especially those on the geographical, social, institutional, and ideological peripheries. With Francis, it is evident that new wine requires new wineskin, new ways of thinking, and minds and hearts that are sincerely open and willing to embrace the ever-new light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who renews everything, who changes everything, who transforms everything.

The substance and extraordinary richness of this Pontificate are evident in the prolific  works  Francis has produced in such a short time. It suffices to list here only a few milestones of his Petrine ministry:
  • An Encyclical: Lumen Fidei (on the faith).
  • An Encyclical Letter: Laudato Si (on care of the environment).
  • A Papal Bull: Misericordiae Vultus (to summon the Holy Year of Mercy).
  • An Apostolic Letter for the Year of Dedication to Consecrated Life.
  • Two Apostolic Exhortations: Evangelii Gaudium (on the joy of announcing the Gospel) and Amoris Laetitia (on love in the Family).
  • The formation of a Council of Cardinals for the reform of the Roman Curia.
  • An Extraordinary Synod on the Family.
  • Countless apostolic journeys followed by multitudes.
  • A Motu proprio, "On the Jurisdiction of Judicial Authorities of the Vatican City State in Criminal Matters," published on July 11, 2013.
  • A Motu Proprio, "For the Prevention and Countering of Money Laundering, the Financing of Terrorism, and the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction,” published on August 8, 2013.
  • Three Consistories.
  • Canonizations.
  • The Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere (the search for the face of God) on the contemplative life of women.
We give thanks to God for giving us Francis as Pope in this time and under these circumstances. As we begin the fifth year of his Pontificate, our hearts and the bells of the Catholic Church rejoice. Why do our hearts rejoice and why do the bells ring? Let us reply with the word of the poet: "For a man who is a blacksmith, he is a soldier and a poet. For a man who carries three stars in his soul: work, energy and dreams – the work that gives strength, the energy that gives audacity, and dreams that give glories."

We thank God for giving us, in Francis, a renewed model of humanity in Christian life. We rejoice because, in Francis there appears, for our time, a model of divinity in humanity. We congratulate ourselves because Francis shows us - in a simple way - that the life of Christ in us is possible, a challenge that calls and challenges all. Francis reminds us daily of the value of the Gospel, the value of Christian life, and the importance of "always returning to the sources" to illuminate our lives and the life of the world with the values ​​of the Gospel.

Francis has again made the Gospel credible in the life of a man for all men. With his way of being and acting, with his Petrine ministry, the Argentine Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as Pope Francis, has become, in these four years of his Pontificate and as the great playwright Bertolt Brecht said, one of those "indispensable ones" for all mankind. He is one of those men who validate, who make credible and kind being part of humanity, Christianity, and the Catholic Church. 


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