My parish priest was my parish priest before my parish was my parish. There were rest stops on the journey my life was on that were not on the brochure. Detours I guess might be the right word. Every time I had my path laid out, circumstances created change and change created opportunities. Not all of those opportunities were fruitful. Surprise children, unplanned moves, family deaths, loss of self and missed chances.
It’s important to recognize the changes within us. Eventually we can no longer hide them and they burst without. Better to be prepared when that happens.
When the calling came to join the Catholic faith, it wasn’t that I wanted to delay my official, sacramental entry, but I didn’t want to come in cold. For myself, I wanted to attend to join the fall group of RCIA* in 2013. I also felt as though I was already Catholic. I wasn’t receiving communion, but in every other way. I had faith, I believed, and I was content in a way.
My massaversary as I like to call it happened on that Holy Week of 2013. In one year, I would be attending my own Easter Vigil. Despite not starting RCIA until the fall months, I was excited for this Holy Week.
At the same time, or near enough, Pope Benedict retired and Jorge Bergoglio was elected to be the next Pope, the 265th successor to St. Peter. Jorge was a bishop in Argentina and a Jesuit. He chose Francis for his name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi whose model for caring for the poor he wanted the church to emulate.
I don’t know why I was excited to be joining the church when Francis became Pope but being drawn to him also drew me to one of his favorite devotions of Mary, which very quickly became one of my favorite devotions. It is Mary, Untier or Undoer of Knots.
She appealed to me so much and she has stayed with me as this decade has passed.
Unlike Pope Francis, I have not seen the original painting in Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany, but I have managed to find medals, coins, and prayer cards. I am too intimidated to sketch something for this Mary, but perhaps one day.
Pope Francis’ humility and inclusivity to all is one of the reasons I am so fond of him. He walks the walk, exhibited in one way by his living, not in the Papal Residence but in the Vatican guesthouse.
He influenced the change in US policy towards Cuba and diplomatic relations and he supports the causes of refugees across the world.
He is clearly interested in evangelization, the environment, the poor, and real religious persecution.
He is the first Pope from the Society of Jesus, the first from the Americas as well as the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and he is the first Pope outside of Europe since Gregory III of Syria in the 700s. He is the first to choose the name Francis.
He speaks seven languages.
He has a common touch, which I think made me like him more. He is of the people, something as an American I can relate to.
He is quoted as choosing St. Francis of Assisi because “the man gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man, …how I would like a poor church, and for the poor.”
From William Bole’s 2018 article at jesuits.org, he states (and I paraphrase), that it’s not so much about rule following but about discerning what G-d is calling them to do. He purports an ethic of service. This truly speaks to me. I am in constant discernment as to what I’m being called to do. It has given me a new confidence in making decisions when I’m asked to do something and I try to be of service or to offer resources that can be of service to others. It is said that giving feels better than receiving, and when you are the one giving, it is a palpable sensation that remains long after the gift or the day has passed.
Pope Francis is who a leader of the church should be – putting the poor and the earth first and foremost, reminding us of our invitation to be humble and merciful, not only to the people we meet, but to ourselves as well.
Happy 10th Anniversary, Pope Francis. I pray for many more years under your guidance and wisdom.
*RCIA – Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which is the process of joining in full communion with the Church.