Our Holy Father put that question to the world last week as he made a one-day pilgrimage to Assisi, home of St. Francis. In taking the saint’s name, Pope Francis signaled from the start of his pontificate that he believes St. Francis has something important to say to the Church and the world of our times. And I’ve been praying and reflecting on St. Francis since my time in San Antonio. As we know, Franciscan missionaries first evangelized much of the American Southwest, including California. Our city and Archdiocese are named for the chapel where St. Francis received revelations from Jesus Christ — the Church of Our Lady of the Angels. Many people know the outlines of Francis’ life. They know of his love for the poor and his love for nature. They know that he started the custom of the Christmas manger scene. For our Pope, this saint is a witness to radical discipleship. And he knows that the saint was far more challenging than some of our popular ideas about him. At Assisi last week he said that St. Francis chose “a radical way of imitating Christ: he clothed himself anew, putting on Christ, who, though he was rich, became poor in order to make us rich by his poverty.” St. Francis reminds us that our faith journey begins with the gift of Jesus Christ — who looks on each of us with love and calls us to accept his love. We do not choose Jesus. He chooses us. “Where did Francis’s journey to Christ begin?” the Pope said. “It began with the gaze of the crucified Jesus.”
Much is being said these days about how our new Pope is going to make big changes in the whole Church. I think some of this is “wishful thinking” from those who would like the Church to give up those Catholic teachings that conflict with modern society and culture.
The lesson for each of us is that we must always keep looking to Jesus Christ, always remaining before him, in his presence. Always reflecting upon him on his cross. At Assisi, the Pope urged the whole Church: “Contemplation of the wounds of Jesus Christ!” He said: “When we let the crucified Jesus gaze upon us, we are re-created, we become ‘a new creation.’ Everything else starts with this: the experience of transforming grace, the experience of being loved for no merits of our own, in spite of our being sinners.” At Assisi, the Pope said that our faith in Jesus must make us “servants of the Gospel.” If we believe that Jesus has saved us from death, we need to live our lives totally for him and to follow him wherever he leads. His Gospel must become our way of life. And Pope Francis makes clear, the way of the Christian is the way of the cross: “From the first one baptized, we are all the Church, and we must all go on the path of Jesus, who … became a slave, a servant; he willed to be humiliated unto the cross. And if we want to be Christians, there is no other way.” Much is being said these days about how our new Pope is going to make big changes in the whole Church. I think some of this is “wishful thinking” from those who would like the Church to give up those Catholic teachings that conflict with modern society and culture. The Pope isn’t changing any Church teachings. He is the rock of St. Peter. He’s trying to give us a deeper foundation to our faith, a deeper love for Christ, a deeper desire to do God’s will. And he is pointing us to St. Francis. At Assisi he said: “You know what Francis said once to his Brothers? ‘Always preach the Gospel and if it’s necessary, use words!’ But how? Can the Gospel be preached without words? Yes! With witness! First witness, then words!” We are called to bear witness to the Gospel with our lives. Through our witness, we are called to bring others to faith and to work for what the Pope calls “the Christian animation of society” — transforming the world in the image of God’s loving plan of salvation. So this week, let’s pray to grow in the simplicity of St. Francis. To be detached from material possessions. To not get too tangled up in “things.” Let’s pray for the grace to trust in God more. To be more loving. To be more willing to share what we have with those in need. Let’s pray to be missionaries of God’s mercy and peacemakers. And let’s ask Our Lady of the Angels to help us grow in the joy of following Jesus Christ. Follow Archbishop Gomez at www.facebook.com/ArchbishopGomez.