Pope Francis directs our lives to the joy of the Gospel in his publication Evangelii Gaudium. Our mission is to live the gospel as disciples, and good discipleship will enact the Gospel mission with great joy. When I was young I wanted to know the faith better than anyone. I would be smarter than anyone. I wanted to have all the answers and be a walking omniscient Catholic encyclopedia. Actually truth be told I never made it past the A’s in the bookshelf size, multi-volume encyclopedia set. A walking reference book I have not become. The more I learned in my theology classes the more my instructors made me aware of how little I knew. Perhaps that is a life lesson to realize we are not walking “know it all’s” even with a google search engine in our pockets.
What were the things that attracted others to St. Francis, what are the things that attract people today to Pope Francis, and what will make good Franciscans tomorrow? Francis’ brother once asked him, why does the whole world chase after you? You don’t have a long lineage of royal blood, you don’t have good looks, you don’t even like books and no degrees! Why does the whole world chase after you? Perhaps people want authenticity!! People crave someone who walks their talk, and it is such a rare thing that when people do it they flock. Perhaps that is why people chase after Pope Francis. We as Franciscans carry a huge respect factor, they see the habit and immediately we’ve won their trust. This is a huge responsibility and also a cross. We must represent the Church well and hold people’s trust with utmost confidentiality and care. Put it in a nutshell, the way we live the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I can give long theological discourses on erudite matters of Gospel-living, but I’m not sure that will compel others to exemplify the Gospel. What is more compelling is how we live our lives, the compassion we show our neighbor, and the love we display beyond ourselves. When I was discerning to enter the Conventual Franciscan order it was the small acts of love that drew me in. It was Friar Ambrose who took the extra time to fold my laundry when I made a quick pit stop from the trucker’s working highway. A small act of love that today continues to humble me. It was Friar John who took the time to help an aging Friar Arnold celebrate daily mass, and assist with finding pages when needed. A small act of love that was the Gospel living portrayed before my very own eyes. Another friar told me of regret having not ever felt genuine love for his brothers so he set the goal to shed sincere tears for his brother some day soon. He selflessly served many friars in the twilight of life and poured his love into their lives. In my humble opinion he accomplished his ambitious goal!
St. Francis enacted the Gospel with bold examples. One story was the gathering of his friars at Rivo Torto when all the brothers were fasting during the penitential season. One of the friars awoke in the middle of the night crying and bemoaning the fast, “I’m dying, I’m dying, I can’t do this anymore.” So St. Francis awoke all the sleeping brothers and announced that all would break the fast and eat bread, grapes and other scrumptious food together. It was this great act of charity to selflessly love the friar with the weaker constitution. Each friar had to let go of their personal fast to selflessly love the weaker brother. This is the Gospel message well lived.
Pope Francis is enacting the Gospel with bold examples. Whether it is denying a limousine for a bus ride, or turning away his personal driver to travel by foot, or visiting with workers behind the scenes. He has truly displayed an image of “the People’s Pope” and one who does not want to be isolated from the flock. Clearly he strives to be involved in people’s lives and in close proximity to the pulse of the people. Pope Francis writes from his Apostolic Exhortation, “I can say that the most beautiful natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to. I also think of the real joy shared by others who, even among pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ.”1
Pope Francis is the first pope in 110 years to depart the Papal Apartment on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace. Relocating from luxury to simplicity he favors communal living among the working cardinals, priests, and staff of the Vatican at Santa Martha Domicile (Domus Santae Marthae). Here he is one among many. This locale situates Pope Francis in close proximity to a common dining hall for meals and daily celebration of 7am mass with the Vatican employees in the residence chapel. In these small ways his life endears many to the gospel. Pope Francis writes of the joy of the Gospel, our mission is to beam with joy and this will enact the Gospel by our example, “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”2
It is no wonder that so many still chase after the little poor man from Assisi, St Francis. In many ways he did not do anything new. He just lived the Gospel and lived it in his own time and place. Just as Pope Francis is living the Gospel in his time and place. Just as many friars I have witnessed living the Gospel in their own time and place. And God willing people will look upon our faithful community as people who live the Gospel in our time and place. The world is hungry to receive the Gospel, and we with great joy will deliver!
1 Apostolic Exhoration Evangelii Guadium by Pope Francis, #7.
2 Ibid, #24