In spite of the very short period of time that Pope Francis has been in office, one thing is clear - all he cares about is to put Jesus first and to introduce him to all in a gentle and warm way. This is a thread I see running through everything he does and I would like to share with you the highlights of the talks he has given in addition to his greeting immediately after being elected and his address to the cardinals the next day that I already wrote about (and that also form part of this Christocentric theme).
- “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, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord.” (Missa pro Ecclesia with the Cardinal-Electors, 14th March)
Instead of this being a dig at NGOs, as some media outlets interpreted it, it is instead an underlining of who the Church is and that her actions are a consequence of her fundamental nature. Even if we perform charitable actions, whose goodness is not questioned here, but fall silent about Jesus, we cease to be his Church.
- “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.” (Missa pro Ecclesia)
Pope Francis here makes it clear what the “professing Jesus” that he insisted on earlier means - it means following Jesus also in suffering and sacrifice and not only in what is “nice,” easy and comfortable. This is a temptation that St. Peter himself succumbed to, when, after Jesus told the disciples that he will “suffer greatly […] and be killed and on the third day be raised,” he then took him to one side and said: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” (Matthew 16:21-22) What I found particularly meaningful here were not only the above words but also the emphasis with which Francis said them and the time he took to address these words very personally to the cardinals.
- “Christ is the Church’s Pastor, but his presence in history passes through the freedom of human beings; from their midst one is chosen to serve as his Vicar, the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Yet Christ remains the centre, not the Sucessor of Peter: Christ, Christ is the centre. Christ is the fundamental point of reference, the heart of the Church. Without him, Peter and the Church would not exist or have reason to exist.” (Audience to representatives of the media, 16th March)
Here I particularly like how Francis brings two aspects of being Jesus’ followers together: first that it is through us that Jesus’ presence persists in the world and second that this presence is not an imposition or an over-ride, but that it respects our freedom. Also, he again uses his election as an opportunity to put Jesus in the foreground.
- “[T]he Church exists to communicate precisely this: Truth, Goodness and Beauty in person.” (Audience to representatives of the media)
Again Francis emphasizes that it is all about Jesus, who is Truth, Goodness and Beauty personified. Here the official transcript of his address has “in person” in quotation marks, while I believe - also from having listened carefully to him saying this sentence - that the meaning was not meant to be different from what “in person” ordinarily means. Jesus is Truth, Goodness and Beauty incarnate - i.e., in person.
- “Since many of you are not members of the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I cordially give this blessing silently, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each, but in the knowledge that each of you is a child of God. May God bless you!” (Audience to representatives of the media)
Seemingly an afterthought, Pope Francis adds these words in Spanish at the end of the audience, which he already concluded by saying “I cordially impart to all of you my blessing.” in Italian. Yet again he puts himself in second place, is concerned about the freedom and dignity of his audience and at the same time is clear about his beliefs. To my mind all of this radiates his concern and love for those to whom he speaks.
- “[God] has the ability to forget, [which is] special: He forgets [our sins], He kisses you, He embraces you, and He says to you, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now, on, sin no more.’ [John 8:11] Only that counsel does He give you.” (Mass at St. Anne’s - the parish church of Vatican City, March 17th)
- “[W]e do not hear words of contempt, we do not hear words of condemnation [from Jesus], but only words of love, of mercy, that invite us to conversion.” (Angelus, 17th March)
Here Francis continues with the theme of forgiveness and openness of Jesus towards all that he already sketched out during the morning mass and he again emphasizes Jesus’ love and invitation to a free conversion as opposed to condemnation or coercion.
- “In these days, I have been able to read a book by […] Cardinal Kasper, a talented theologian, a good theologian—on mercy. And it did me such good, […] so much good…”
“I wanted to ask her[, the woman in her eighties who came to me to hear her confession and who told me “If the Lord didn’t forgive everyone, the world would not exist.”]: “Tell me, have you studied at the Gregorian [Pontifical University]?”, because that is the wisdom that the Holy Spirit gives: the inner wisdom of God’s mercy.”
Finally, I also wanted to pick out the above moments from the Angelus address: first, Pope Francis choosing to highlight the thoughts of one of his cardinals instead of putting his own thoughts first and second, recognizing God’s wisdom in the words of a simple parishioner and sharing it with the world.