The excitement following the election of Pope Francis has been amazing. Like those before him, this Pope so clearly carries on the work of his predecessors with his own unique style. I cannot help but be taken by Pope Francis’ physical, public manifestations of caritas, charity. The Church has been blessed recently by very holy men sitting upon the Chair of St. Peter who have gifted us with a framework in which to operate in this ever-changing world.
“Newness” can be exciting, and, indeed, our faith is meant to be a constant renewal of the culture and the individual souls living in it. Yet, our belief is anchored in the person of Jesus Christ, and in truths as old as the faith itself.
In his first homily, Pope Francis spoke of “journeying, building and professing,” and of St. Peter who did not want our Lord to suffer: “The same Peter who professed Jesus Christ, now says to him: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. That has nothing to do with it. I will follow you on other terms, but without the Cross. When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.”
Pope Francis’ admonition pertains not only to the Cardinals present at his first homily, but to all of us. What we build in our families, at work, in all of our interactions with others, must be formed with the sacrifice of our Lord foremost in our minds. Nothing lasting or worthwhile can be created on foundations any less sure than this. If we seek the easy way over the hard work of bringing the Word to others – in spite of threat, difficulty or discomfort – what have we built for God’s kingdom?
Our charitable work must be the same, whether it be the professional type through Catholic Charities, or the heart-to-heart variety that should be practiced by every Christian with all they meet (though I’d argue these are not meant to look that different).
Pope Francis continued, “We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO [nongovernmental organization], but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord. . . .When we are not building on the stones, what happens? The same thing that happens to children on the beach when they build sandcastles: everything is swept away, there is no solidity. When we do not profess Jesus Christ, the saying of Léon Bloy comes to mind: ‘Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.’ When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness.”
We are not meant to resemble the world in the good work we do, because the world does not base its activity on the cross of Christ. The more we look like those who reject Christ, whether they be our lost neighbors or the secular nonprofit next door, the more we lose our hold on the transformative power of God in the work we do.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote of this in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est: “We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern. Those who work for the Church’s charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity. Consequently, in addition to their necessary professional training, these charity workers need a ‘formation of the heart’: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others.”
We are called to this formation of heart that changes our mere activity into something elevated by grace. This is no easy task, but linking ourselves to the cross in all things will open us to a richness of living to which no worldly inclination can compare.
Pope Francis concluded with a call for courage for which we should all pray: “My wish is that all of us, after these days of grace, will have the courage, yes, the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s Cross; to build the Church on the Lord’s blood which was poured out on the Cross; and to profess the one glory: Christ crucified. And in this way, the Church will go forward.”