The last four weeks have almost seemed surreal. The unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the preparation of the church to elect a new pope — with an ample portion of speculation about who would be his successor — and then the surprise election of a cardinal from Latin America have seemed like watching a very fast- paced movie or reading a novel about another time.
One word we all heard in the news commentaries and other sources in the media as well as the private observations of individual believers and non-believers alike was the word “humility.” Pope Benedict is admired for the way he decided to set aside his responsibilities, not just because of his age and lack of sufficient stamina to keep up with the demands of the vocation as the successor to Peter, “but for the good of and in the interest of the church.” Even leaders of other faiths and religions have hailed the move by Benedict as an extraordinary act of humility.
Because of his strong love for the poor, this new pope took the name Francis. The poverello’s (little poor one’s) love for God and for peace in the human heart have moved this pope, and now through him, will move us to look at what is most important in life. Just as Francis of Assisi might have done, this Latin American Jesuit, this first non-European in more than 1,000 years to be chosen leader of the Catholic Church with 1.2 billion Catholics, asked the people in the St. Peter’s Square for their prayers as he bowed before them on the night of his election. These were great acts of humility.
Besides those who have been called to bear it, I don’t think anyone can imagine the weight of the office of the papacy, but these two leaders have obediently stepped up to the call with humility, courage and with trust in the loving God who called them to serve him and humanity. These humble men, each in his own way and with his own style, show us what it means to follow Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict XVI has shown us the way by teaching the Gospel “whether the task was convenient or inconvenient,” popular or unpopular. Pope Francis is teaching us another approach by focusing on the poor and on the people of God. I look forward to the lessons we will learn from him as he shows forth Jesus Christ in a new way, a way that is alive and fresh in these days of mass communications and virtual reality.
John the Baptist, when he saw Jesus, his cousin, for the first time with eyes of faith as “the Lord,” said, “He must increase; I must decrease.” This is what our Holy Fathers are saying to us by their humble leadership. Each day I must become less preoccupied, less worried, less self-absorbed and let the Christ within shine so that others may be drawn to him. He must increase; I must decrease. May God bless you and may God bless our church, our country and our world so that Jesus Christ may reign!