By Most Reverend Gerald R. Barnes
Taken from Bishop Gerald Barnes’ homily at the March 19 Diocesan Mass in celebration of the inauguration of Pope Francis.
It was a week ago tomorrow that we heard the news of who our new pope was to be and in a sense I’d like you to go back to that day only seven days ago when you heard the news - where you were and who you were with and what you felt. Last week we did something similar to this with the diocesan employees at the Pastoral Center and a few of them shared that what marked them was the simplicity of the man. Others said what really touched them was when he asked for us to pray for him and he bowed his head, the humility to ask for prayers from us for himself. Some said that it was the fact that we had an American, someone from the continent of the Americas. And others said he is Latino! And to some it was the name that he chose, Francis, and all that that means for us. Francis has always been one of the most favorite saints in our Church, because of the care he had for our earth and because of his fellowship with poverty.
There was a great excitement and it’s still going on as we are given glimpses of who this man is. When we start talking a little about his life, when we see some things he has already done and when we listen to his words, some people are saying it’s a new beginning. Other people are saying we have a lot of hope. We all know that this hope was built on our past popes, especially the popes from the Second Vatican Council on, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. This has been a walk. This is not a change that happens from one day to another, the Holy Spirit has been guiding the Popes of the church and now we have Pope Francis. We sense a new hope and maybe that’s because in some ways we’ve been very down as a Church; maybe because there are a lot of criticisms about our Church; maybe because it’s in our parishes where we are struggling; maybe because in our families we’ve lost the children that we have raised as Catholics who are no longer practicing our faith; maybe it’s a lot of stuff that has been in us and we haven’t had a chance to really see the other side of who we are. Then the Spirit presents us with this man named Francis and all of us are feeling this excitement.
You know that 130 nations were represented at our pope’s inauguration, which tells us of the respect and the hope that the world has. That respect and hope is not just for the man who is pope. It is for what we believe and who we are. The world is crying out for a moral leader for new hope, for a new beginning. And we as Catholics feel all that, and we look at someone who is the center that unites us, our leader. We need uniting because there are so many differences among us that may be just practices, that may be opinions, that may be different approaches. Sometimes we feel that division even amongst ourselves and we need someone to remind us who we are as a church, someone to bring us to that unity and that respect for each other. Not uniformity but unity that parents pray for in their families, that their children be united that their children respect each other that their children get along. I think we have been looking for that and the Church has given us, through the power of the Spirit, Francis. We know that the Pope is the one that carries that kind of authority in our Church not only being the vocal leader and center of unity the Vicar of Christ the Vicar of Peter and Bishop of Rome. He carries that kind of authority that reminds us that we are called to serve each other to wash the feet of one another because the authority that is given the Lord Jesus is not one of domination but one of service, and Francis I has already shown that to us in his actions.
Pope Francis reminds us how the Lord came to serve and not to be served. We also hear through his life and what he is saying now that, yes, the Lord Jesus has come for all, but there is a special preference for the marginated, for the poor, for those who are struggling just to be alive. The little ones, the last ones, the least ones, the lost ones, there’s a special call for the church to be with them. Pope Francis is reminding us of the mission that our Lord Jesus Christ gave us – to accompany the smallest, the most neglected, the last ones. He is reminding us that the kingdom of God is for the most insignificant.
We are being reminded in this Year of Faith with the election of this Pope to recapture who we are as Christians, as Catholics and so there is hope. We see someone who understands the vision of the Lord and is sharing that vision again with us. That’s what a leader does, he shares that vision again with us. And gives us hope, just as someone like Martin Luther King did when he said he has been to the mountain. In other words, he has seen the way it can be and reminds us of what we are meant to be as Church.
Francis has reminded us that we are to preach the Gospel and sometimes use words. His actions have preached the word, so this is what we are celebrating in this Year of Faith. It is so good, not only to study what the [Vatican] Councils have said, not only to study what the Catechism presents for us, but to see our leader living these in his life.
It always comes back to us. We are celebrating God’s great goodness we have been given a good leader and now we have to show our gratitude and that is shown in the way we live our Catholic and Christian Faith. How are we preaching the Gospel? How are we reminding one another of the vision? How are we serving each other, especially those that are more alienated in our families in our church and in society?
The Pope gives us an example of how to live the Gospel in our lives. Now it’s our turn to take that example and the Word so that we may live that same Gospel in our family, church and society. May this new excitement take root in us, may it carry us forward, day after day after day. When I’m down I see the excitement in you and that lifts me up. May we be there for each other, for that is why the Lord gave us one another, to be there for each other. May we preach through our actions that the Kingdom is here and especially for those among us that are seen as insignificant and poor. We know the life of St. Peter we know the life of St. Paul and we know that one was a student of the scriptures that he would spend time reading and studying, and the other was a fisherman. There was nothing they had in common, but they met the Messiah and their lives changed. It is now our turn, the Year of Faith asks us to recognize our Lord Jesus, the Christ, the living Messiah. May that happen to you and to me in this Year of Faith. We have been called to re encounter the Lord the living Christ among us, may that happen to us today with the excitement that we all have in thanking God for the gift of Francis, thanking one another for being believers and supporting one another in this new beginning of our church.