Image: Pope Francis embraces new Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec after presenting the red biretta to him during a consistory in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 22. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
In his first years as pope, Francis has challenged just about everyone. In the Consistory of February 2014, he created eighteen new cardinals, and he told them, in no uncertain terms, that this was not a promotion but a calling into deeper and more humble service of the Church. He asked them to work together, bringing their experience of so many different and diverse parts of the Church to their role in advising and assisting the pope.
The pope has challenged bishops, telling them that they must not compromise on their ministry for fear of making mistakes. They must not sit in their churches, merely inviting people to come in. They must have the courage to go out and to walk with people, even when they are walking away from the Church.
He told the Ambassadors of the Holy See to serve in humility and not to cultivate any sense of self-importance. He has spoken about the qualities that are required of those called to be bishops. They must, above all else, be pastors who do not forget the smell of their sheep! He has been clear about the qualities of those studying for the priesthood. They must be growing in compassion, pastoral care, and good preaching lived out in the example of their lives. He has spoken to members of religious orders about the generosity of the vowed life.
But Pope Francis challenges us as well, especially in this Year of Mercy. Here are three P’s that can help us do just that.
Is it possible to describe Pope Francis in a single word? I will try to suggest one: the pope of patience. Young people, he recognizes, rightly feel the urgent need to change the world. But, very quickly, as they grow up, they discover that this objective is unattainable if they are in a hurry. It can only be done with patience. This is something that parents know well when they understand that, beyond giving a model of life to their children, they must just learn to wait until the child makes his or her own life and, if need be, his or her own mistakes.
One of Bergoglio’s best-loved passages of the Gospel is that of the merciful father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It is the passage in which the son wants to receive his inheritance. He then goes away and sinks to the very bottom of existence, and then he returns home. And the father? He sees him coming home, a sign that he was “standing at the window, in other words, waiting for him,” the pope explains. To make himself better understood, the pope speaks of a kite, which, as it turns, begins to tremble. At that point instinct would make you pull the cord, to take back control. But that would be a mistake. When the kite “wags its tail,” you must give—let it have its way; you must set it free (without abandoning it), you must give it time. We could call it the Gospel of Patience.
Pope Francis greets a woman as he meets the disabled during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican June 15. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
As a youth Bergoglio was very interested in politics. He never took an active part in politics, but he read a lot about it, especially two reviews that were edited by the Communist party, Nuestro Palabra and Propositos. He makes it clear, though, that he was never a communist. Nor did he take part in politics as a bishop, even if he did not stay quiet when he was aware of sufferings, slavery, and the injustices that afflicted the poor. But that is first and foremost a matter of the Gospel: “Involving themselves in politics for Christians is a duty,” he said to a young student at one of the Jesuit schools two months after the election. “We Christians cannot play at being Pilate, washing our hands. True, politics is often dirty, but I ask myself, why is it dirty? Is it because Christians do not involve themselves in it, in the spirit of the Gospel?”
How does the pope pray? How much does he pray? Those who know him consider him to be a man who is totally captivated by God in prayer. Before liturgical celebrations, we see him engrossed, seated there, with a thoughtful expression on his face; already he is completely in the Lord. After Mass, if he can, he goes to the back seat and continues in silent prayer. He sleeps little, not more than five hours a night, and he gets up early. His first hours are spent before the Blessed Sacrament.
Sometimes he has fallen asleep on the prie-dieu, but he does not make an issue of it. Part of his daily rule is the Liturgy of the Hours, the first and the last action of every day. In the middle of the day there is the rosary. He has never been afraid of popular devotions. He himself practices a number of them, and he has spread many of these devotions, among which one is to the Madonna who unties knots, Mary Untier of Knots. For him prayer is not a matter of reciting formulae but of encountering God. And in this sense he has given a wonderful definition of what is happening when he prays: “It is as if God is holding me by the hand.”