A Message from the Pope
Two years ago in 2014, Pope Francis made the following statement at his Angelus Address at St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City:
“We are called…to become rest and comfort for our brothers and sisters, with a docile and humble attitude, in imitation of the Teacher. Docility and humility of heart help us not only to take on the burden of others, but also to keep our personal views, our judgments, our criticism, or our indifference from weighing on them.”
I read a Catholic blog recently on the topic of whether Jesus was “nice” or not. The article focused on the fact that as Catholics we should not just be “nice” or “tolerant” but rather authentic, truthful and also ready to preach the Gospel to all. I agree with the premise of the article; being a Christian and being a Catholic, particularly, is not about being nice or tolerant but about faith in Christ and in living it out.
However, some in the Church who are very concerned about the spreading of our faith are not evangelizing in the humble way Christ calls us to. When it comes to living out who we are as Catholics and as Christians, the place to begin is in my own heart and in the exercising of the virtues of our faith. Truly then it is important to be “nice” and “kind” to all those we come in contact with, even if we have to disagree with them on some core issues.
Kindness does matter. “Square One” begins with myself, and it begins with how I react to the next circumstance and the next “not-so-easy to deal with” person who comes knocking at my door. It could even be my family, my friends, the people I like and also the people I do not like so much. “The Year of Mercy” is something which will begin within my soul. I will not be able to tackle all of the violence, fear, “Presidential elections”, political debates, and moral issues within the Church or any of the world problems either. Mercy will begin in my own heart and is a gift I receive from Jesus Christ to be given to the people I will come in contact with today and tomorrow.
Knowing this, we can take a large, deep breath and ask God to help us. We have a great and wonderful example of Christ in action when we look at our Holy Father Pope Francis. This is a very holy man of God who has been misunderstood by so many, especially by very devout Catholics and even many priests and religious. Our Holy Father is an intelligent “man of God” who believes and practices all of the doctrines and all of the moral issues of the Catholic Church. In his own soul, he has chosen a couple specific issues which he believes are the key to showing God’s love to the world. This is our only hope to truly “evangelizing” at this crucial time.
Pope Francis has made it a critical point in his pontificate to help all of us to look deep within our hearts and find God’s love so we can pour it out to others. It is extremely important that we find the love of God and of Jesus inside of ourselves in order to give it away. When it comes to introducing others to the Lord and in coming back to the Catholic Church, they will not come back if we don’t know how to offer a smile, compassion, and love to them. We need to accept others as they are. Not acceptance of sin, but acceptance of good people who are truly God’s children and deserve our love and our hospitality. This invitation is for every person alive.
The Gift of a Smile
As easy as it sounds, sometimes the welcoming presence of a simple smile and “hello” to others makes a big difference. A while ago, I had an experience with some “religious” friends where I had shared some deep, personal experiences I was going through at the time. It took a lot for me to share my views on a specific topic with these people. I learned in God’s time that my decision to share my views and my heart with some was not wise of me. We learn a lesson in life sometimes; just because you share your experiences or feelings with like-minded individuals does not always mean what you have to say will be accepted.
Within the “religious world”, we may expect our brothers and sisters will support us as we share ourselves and our views with them, but it does not always happen. Sometimes welcoming faces can soon become closed-off circles of those we once considered our Church community or support system. Then a simple smile, invitation, and welcoming attitude can make a difference for those people who feel left out of the Church, our communities or even our homes. These past experiences have certainly taught me as I continue on my own journey. I have learned that a smile can say words like “I care about you”. “You are important to us.” And “welcome back”, when words are difficult to find or to express. I have tried to give to others what I did not receive during difficult times in my life. Blessed Mother Teresa preached that a smile is a great gift we can give to others; it is truly the gift of love which is God himself at work.
Love is not Weakness
I think in our world right at this time and with the violence happening just about everywhere, love is sometimes viewed as a weakness. We can see this and read this everywhere we go especially in an election year. Gossip, harsh words, and criticism becomes an everyday occurrence as soon as we go on-line and read or watch TV. It’s there and in front of us. And the teachings of Christ and his Church can start to look very weak and “wishy-washy”. The attitude that wins the day seems to be to “throw the first stone before you get hit”.
If we take a moment to reflect on the love of God and what Jesus stood for, we come to realize making war with others through our words or in opposition does not make the world a better place or bring the Kingdom of God to others. Jesus’ life and ministry have taught us that standing for the truth and offering our lives through sacrificial love is truly bringing His Kingdom to all.
Love then is not weakness. The combination of staying true to what we believe in our faith combined with empathy for our suffering world through compassion is the Will of the Father for all of us. Offering our loving kindness toward all people, not just Catholics and Christians, is the way we bring God’s love to everyone regardless of sex, race, religion or anything else which defines or separates us.
Pope Francis Prayer for the World
Many years from now, we will look back on “The Year of Mercy” that Pope Francis instituted as a real time of grace for the whole Church and the world. He made a visit to my own home city of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, and brought together almost a million people to attend Mass and just to be in his presence. This was an awesome gift for all of us. This visit was Pope Francis’ prayer for the world to lead us to deeper faith and in instituting this very special year. Let us now not lose the momentum we received from the Pope’s visit or in this “Year of Mercy” and the grace God has given to us. “The Year of Mercy” brings Christ to the whole world.
Bring your love and bring God to all you meet! Yes, we must also be “nice” and “kind” because this is our welcome to the world. We continue to preach the truth, of course, and not back down. If we cannot love, we will be the “clashing cymbal” we read about in I Corinthians 13 which is about the love of God and its description of real love. May God bless all of you. I pray each and every one of us will make the most of “The Year of Mercy”. It is not too late for us to humble ourselves before God and the world so other people will begin to know and experience the sacrificial and life-giving love of Jesus Christ. My daily prayers are with all of you each day.