While many (even most) people look at Pope Francis as an important world leader, my hunch is that he understands himself to be primarily a follower, not a leader. Like all Christians, Pope Francis is a disciple of Jesus Christ, and the meaning of the word “disciple” is one who follows. And as a disciple of Jesus, Pope Francis strives every day to become more like Jesus in what he says and does, and in how he speaks and acts.
Each day, Pope Francis prays and reads (and rereads) the stories of Jesus in the Gospels. Each day we witness this humble person speaking and acting very much like Jesus did. Facing such overwhelming responsibilities every day, Pope Francis is a model of Gospel simplicity. He shows us the meaning of the Beatitudes through his poverty of spirit, his meekness, his thirst for justice. He also clearly displays how one can perform the corporal works of mercy no matter who you are, no matter where you are. As we read in Matthew 25:35-36, every disciple is charged to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked and visit the lonely and imprisoned.
As Pope Francis performs these very simple and humble actions, they shine brightly before all who see them, or hear about them, or read about them. Like the sun’s rays warm our faces, these acts of mercy warm our hearts and souls. Like Jesus feeding the multitude with bread and fish, Pope Francis feeds us – and the world – with hope. In the midst of the darkness of evil that too often blankets our world, Pope Francis shines as a beacon of light, reminding us of Jesus, the Light of the World.
As we continue to pray for Pope Francis, we should also learn from his example. Each Christian is a disciple, a follower of Jesus. Each of us is called to be a person of the Beatitudes, a person of the corporal works of mercy. Each of us is asked to bring the light of Christ into the world in our own way. This is especially relevant during the Advent season, in which we recall the coming of Jesus, the Light, into the world. May our light join the brilliant light of Pope Francis in bringing mercy and hope into the world during this holy season and throughout the coming year. Amen.
George S. Matejka, Ph.D. is the Chair of the Philosophy Department at Ursuline College.