On March 13, 2013, Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio was elected the 265th successor of St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome and the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. Crowds had been waiting in St. Peter’s square for days. They stood side by side waiting for the Pope’s election. Millions of people around the world had been waiting in front of televisions—waiting for news from Rome, waiting for the white smoke from the Sistine Chapel, waiting for the Vicar of Christ on earth.
The evening was cool and quiet when Pope Francis appeared on the loggia above St. Peter’s Square. “Brothers and sisters,” he said, “buona sera—good evening.”
The first thing he did was to ask the crowd to pray with him for his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Then he asked the crowd to pray for the new pope—to pray in silence for his new ministry. And then he offered his first blessing to the world.
Pope Francis began his ministry in utter simplicity. With silence. With prayer. In unity with men and women of the Church around the world. From the humility of his first greeting as pope, the world has been enamored with the gentle, spontaneous, humble Pope Francis.
This week, Pope Francis is undertaking an apostolic journey to the United States. He will speak to a joint session of Congress and to the General Assembly of the United Nations. He will meet with the President, he will canonize a new saint, and he will celebrate a Mass at Madison Square Garden. The culmination of his trip, and the principal reason for his apostolic journey, will be the World Meeting of Families, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday in Philadelphia, with hundreds of thousands of Catholics.
I will be with the Holy Father for prayer, fellowship, and Holy Mass in Washington and Philadelphia. Dozens of families, seminarians, and priests from the Diocese of Lincoln will be there, too. And I look forward to hearing the Holy Father’s message to the United States.
Doubtlessly, he will deliver strong words with gentle kindness. Doubtlessly, he will inspire us to greater charity, while witnessing to charity with his own life. Doubtlessly, he will urge us to become more vibrant and engaged missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, as he reveals to us the missionary discipleship of his own life.
I have no doubt that the message of Pope Francis to our nation will be inspirational, challenging, and enduring. I am certain he will lead each one of us to a greater love for God and neighbor.
But for every word that Pope Francis speaks, media commentators will offer myriad interpretations. His homilies and exhortations will be filtered through the lens of social and political agendas. His every move will be spun by those who would like to align Pope Francis with their own personal and political causes.
This week, I’ll try to receive Pope Francis as he is: as the Vicar of Christ, the Bishop of Rome, and as a man, a brother in Christ. I’ll try to hear his words, and reflect on them for myself. I’ll try to take what he says in the context of the Gospel, not in the context of political party platforms. I’ll try to learn from the Holy Father what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
May I suggest that we all do the same.
The homilies and speeches of Pope Francis will be broadcast on television stations and on the internet. The texts will be readily available. They will certainly contain wisdom. But to glean that wisdom, we must hear it from the Vicar of Christ himself. I urge everyone to read the full texts of this talks.
When Christ walked the earth, some said that he was John the Baptist. Some said he was a prophet. Some thought he was a political revolutionary. To some he was a charlatan, a criminal, or a heretic. And to some he was the Christ, the Son of the living God. But everyone who heard the words of Jesus told the story according to his own view—save for those inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell the truth. The words of Our Lord were twisted, manipulated, and subverted. The same will be true of the words of His Vicar.
If you want to hear the words of Christ, we should look to the Gospels. If we want to hear the words of Christ’s Vicar, we should refrain from the commentaries, the agendas, and the manipulations—we should hear and reflect on the message of Pope Francis, our humble Pope, to the Church, and to our nation.