I Like This Pope!
Updated: Nov 23, 2021
It is one of the most common things people say about Pope Francis: "I like this pope!" They say it even if they themselves are not Catholic or even believers. Across the past eight years, Pope Francis has touched many by his authentic care for people...especially the sick, weak, those downtrodden in any way by society. He comes across as a true "doer" of the way of Jesus as he pays attention to some little child wandering onto the auditorium stage at a weekly audience, or the way he looks a street-person in the eye and touches their face, or the way he washes the feet of prisoners at the Holy Thursday liturgy.
He also inspires often enough when he speaks from the heart. Just the other day Pope Francis was giving the homily (sermon) at a special Mass in memory of recently deceased bishops. That homily stopped me cold...or rather...stopped me warm! Pope Francis begins his reflection based on the first reading of the liturgy: “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26). Allow me to quote at some length Pope Francis' thoughts on this simple verse:
This attitude is not a starting point, but rather a destination. Indeed, the author reaches it at the end of a journey, a troubled journey, that enabled him to grow. He comes to understand the beauty of trusting in the Lord, who never fails to keep his promises. But trust in God is not born of a momentary enthusiasm; it is not an emotion, nor is it a sentiment. On the contrary, it comes from experience and matures in patience, as in the case of Job, who passes from a knowledge of God “by hearsay” to a living, experiential knowledge. And for this to happen, it takes a long inner transformation that, through the crucible of suffering, leads to knowing how to wait in silence, that is, with confident patience, with a meek soul. This patience is not resignation, because it is nurtured by the expectation of the Lord, whose coming is certain and does not disappoint.
Dear brothers and sisters, how important it is to learn the art of waiting for the Lord! To wait for him meekly, confidently, chasing away phantoms, fanaticism and clamour; preserving, especially in times of trial, a silence filled with hope. This is how we prepare for life’s last and greatest trial, death. But first there are the trials of the moment, there is the cross we have now, and for which we ask the Lord for the grace to know how to wait there, right there, for his coming salvation.
Pope Francis goes on to make the very personal point that the darkest and most difficult passages of our lives, especially those afflicted by doubt and despair, if we wait them out patiently and courageously, often become the moment when God most gently touches us and raises us up. It is in the many deaths of life that we come to know both God and life anew. In these sublime counsels to wait patiently and with trust, we are in the presence of a true pastor, one who doesn't just wash feet or touch the cheek of a disabled child, but one who also gives hope to the discouraged, the despairing, those living in darkness and within the shadow of death. Any of us and all of us. Especially in these confusing and dispiriting contemporary times. For all of
In the abyss, in the anguish of non-meaning, God draws near to save us at that moment. And when bitterness reaches its climax, hope suddenly flourishes again. It is bad to reach old age with a bitter heart, with a disappointed heart, with a heart that is critical of new things, it is very hard. “But this I call to mind”, says the praying man in the Book of Lamentations, “and therefore I have hope” (v. 21). Resuming hope in the moment of bitterness. In the midst of sorrow, those who cling to the Lord see that he unlocks suffering, opens it, transforms it into a door through which hope enters. It is a paschal experience, a painful passage that opens to life, a kind of spiritual labour that in the darkness makes us come to the light again.
This old man, Francis, now well into his eighties and the bearer of a broken church upon his shoulders, daily criticized by his adversaries in the church, (recently even called a "snake" by one American bishop!), appeals to his own heart and ours to not grow old "with a bitter heart, a disappointed heart, with a heart that is critical of new things." He has every reason in the world to be bitter, but is not. He has every reason in the world to quit, but does not. He has every reason in the world to give up hope, yet does not. To the contrary, Francis doesn't just "put on a happy face", he welcomes all that darkness knowing that in it he will find God, just as Jesus did in that awful moment of his own dark, unjust death on an outcropping of rock outside the walls of "Holy Jerusalem".
He reminds me, in particular, as I begin a new stage of my life, that I don't want to become in my old age a grumpy old man, cynical and jaded by disappointment or injustice.
Though Pope Francis has, by his own admission, made his share of mistakes over the past eight years, this pope is nevertheless a great spiritual guide who has learned his craft from a lifetime of being found by grace especially in darkness. He teaches me, especially in my own dark times, to wait with trust. Blessed are we who have such a guide in our times. I, too, like this pope!
(Read the full text of Pope Francis' reflection here: HOMILY).