FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF THE INAUGURATION OF THE PONTIFICATE OF POPE FRANCIS
Homily Notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 19th March 2014
We gather one year after that day on which Pope Francis solemnly inaugurated his mission as Bishop of Rome and Shepherd of the Universal Church, on the Feast of Saint Joseph 2013.
It has been an exciting year and as anyone who has begun to understand Pope Francis can imagine, there are certainly more surprises to come. Pope Francis has struck a cord in people hearts right around the world. Yet he has remained himself. His fame and popularity are not due to any polished public relations operation. He has remained himself and he has been very firm in not allowing anyone else to tell him how he should act as a Pope. As Pope he continues to be a priest: he celebrates Mass and preaches daily, he hears confessions, he visits parishes in his own diocese and each morning at Mass he receives representatives of a different Roman Parish.
As I noted in an article I wrote for the Irish Times on the anniversary of Pope Francis’s election: “he likes meeting with people and is energised in meeting people. He is at home with the troubled; he often responds to their letters by calling them back directly on the telephone. Seeing a young man whose face was covered in sores he did not ask him what disease he had, he kissed him”.
Despite all this I have to admit that I was somewhat reticent about preparing this homily. The first reason was because just a few days ago, on the anniversary of Pope Francis’ election, so much has been said and written. All the world major newspapers dedicated articles to Pope Francis. Every Bishops Conference made a statement of good wishes. Politicians worldwide gave their own positive comments on the new Pope’s activities and attitudes. What more can be added?
The second reason I am reticent is a more curious one. Everyone had something to say about Pope Francis’ anniversary except Pope Francis. He was on retreat in the countryside outside Rome with the members of the Roman Curia and we have not heard a word of how he celebrated his anniversary, except that we know he carried on a normal day without any change in the programme of his prayer and reflection.
According to many, Pope Francis is a superstar; but he has clearly said that he does not like that. Recently he said: “To depict the pope as a sort of superman, a sort of star, seems offensive to me. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps tranquilly and has friends like everyone else, a normal person.” He wants to remain himself, a human being and a priest, who is driven in all his activity not by public relations gestures or seeking popularity, but by responding authentically to the Joy of the Gospel, Evangelii Gaudium, as his recent Apostolic Exhortation is entitled. The Pope’s mission is driven by the message of the Gospel and by the joy that that message brings to him and which he wishes to share with others.
He does not wish to be a superstar because he does not wish to draw attention to himself. We can all admire and be struck his wonderful one line comments. However, he does not want to be remembered as the author of a book of one-liners. The success of Pope Francis will not be the fruit of his public opinion ratings or of a process of reforms which he initiates and on which we, from our safe and secure positions, pass judgement as to how they fit with our own positions.
The success of Pope Francis’ agenda depends on us, the missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, and how far we are willing to make his agenda truly and uncomfortably our own and bring it into the life the world around us, in family, at work, in society, in politics, in the fight to defend the poor, the exploited and the marginalized.
Pope Francis likes the term “missionary disciples”. That is what we are all called to be: priests, religious and lay men and women alike. Pope Francis wants us to be focussed not on him but on Jesus Christ, who is the source of that joy which comes from the Gospel.
Our challenge then is to know the Gospel and to live it as joy. This does not mean that we ignore the sufferings and anguish that exist in the world; or the suffering and the anguish which has been caused within the Church; or the suffering and the anguish of those who are troubled and find the Gospel difficult and who feel that they fail. The joy which comes from the Gospel is a joy which should enable us to be more sensitive to the suffering and the anguish of others, by reaching out to them and inviting them to come closer to Jesus, by attracting them to the message of the Gospel, by showing them that Jesus loves us in a special way when we fail.
Pope Francis is a man who accepted the will of the Lord to become successor of Saint Peter when it was put to him, without any questioning or without any strategic planning sessions. On the internet, there is a remarkable photograph of Cardinal Bergoglio leaving the final meting of the Cardinals before entering the conclave. He is dressed simply, with what looks like a somewhat old black overcoat covering his cassock and practical black shoes, which he still wears today. It is the photo of the quiet, thoughtful and reserved Cardinal that I knew from Synods of Bishops. Somehow, once elected the Spirit gave him a new lease of life, a new energy and rather than become bowed down by the burden of his new office – he has allowed the Joy of living and proclaiming the Gospel to transform him and give him new energy. The Church needs renewal and that renewal will only be one which is marked by the joy of the Gospel. Pope Francis does not want Christians with sour faces.
When we come to analyse what Pope Francis has achieved in this year there are many keys of interpretation. The first temptation is to acclaim the things that we like and shy away from other aspects of his teaching.
It is great that it is he is well respected in so many quarters in the world – but, with the thousands of accolades we should be asking the question: what are the ways in which we, the missionary disciples of Jesus, should understand his challenge? Must ours not be a different reaction to those admirers who do not believe or those whose belief is marginal or who those just look on as observers? We are not cold blooded observers. We are called to be passionate missionary disciples.
Our reaction then must be to identify the paths that Pope Francis opens out and has opened out during this past year through the way he lives his Christian life. On the Feast of Saint Joseph one year ago, in his homily for the inauguration of his mission, reminding us of the special mission of Saint Joseph to protect Jesus, Pope Francis challenged us all: “Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope!”
We thank God for the witness to the Joy of the Gospel which Pope Francis has given every day in this past year. We pray for the Pope, as he asked on the evening of his election before giving his blessing. We pray that the Lord will bless Pope Francis and give him strength to lead and challenge the Church of the missionary disciples of Jesus in the time to come. ENDS