Though the world barely knows Pope Francis, it has rushed to judge him. As Caitlin Bootsma has lamented, “Catholics, of all stripes, immediately sought to measure Pope Francis against their own goals for the papacy.” Rather than measuring him according to our interests and wants, we should make haste to pray for him. We should, further, seek to learn from Pope Francis as students before the master teacher.
His homilies, speeches, and actions during the first days of his pontificate contain rich lessons for those who proclaim the Gospel of Life. But one consistent theme has emerged in his addresses and actions: Thirst for the Absolute and relationship with Him.
This theme was most evident in his address to the diplomatic corps where he stressed that “before all else we need to keep alive in our world the thirst for the absolute.” He has stressed that this thirst comes before and must illumine all other works that we do—caring for the poor and the outcast, promoting peace, and seeking solidarity for those who suffer.
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“[T]he spiritual poverty of our time” he told the diplomats, is “what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the ‘tyranny of relativism.’” Our spiritual poverty—particularly present in wealthy nations—threatens peace and coexistence because the individual is exalted as his own rule and measure and thus becomes a threat to creation. Creation here includes the environment, but has the human person at its summit.
Pope Francis notes that the “attempt to eliminate God” has resulted in great violence. Thirst for the good, true and beautiful positions us “to counter the dominance of a one-dimensional vision of the human person, a vision which reduces human beings to what they produce and to what they consume: this is one of the most insidious temptations of our time.” He has shown that this is a lived theology in his dramatic gestures towards the sick and the disabled. Perhaps this appreciation of the inherent dignity of each person—regardless of their ability to produce—was most evident when he stopped his motorcade to embrace and bless a disabled man who he saw in the massive crowd before his inauguration at St. Peter’s.
Truth, Pope Francis emphasizes, is the essential precursor to peace. There cannot be true peace in the midst of the spiritual poverty that pervades “richer countries.” The inversion of “rights” today that readily declares wrongs as rights is rooted in blindness to God’s truth. A necessary criterion of peace is that man cannot be singularly focused on his own rights but must prioritize service of others on the basis of a common human nature which “unites every human being on earth.”
As he reminded the media, we must have a particular concern for the transcendent, because “[the] Church exists to communicate precisely this: Truth, Goodness and Beauty ‘in person’.” In his inaugural homily on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, he identified the head of the Holy Family as the model for us because his adult life was in service of Jesus. Saint Joseph is able to protect the gifts given to him precisely “because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will.” This allows him to “be sensitive” to those in his charge, to perceive things as they are, and to “make truly wise decisions.” Like Joseph, we must be open to God if we hope to protect God’s gifts and establish peace.
Saint Joseph, Pope Francis suggests, is the model for humanity who must “[b]e protectors of God’s gifts.” This is realized, in a particular way for spouses in a threefold duty of protection: In loving care towards one’s spouse, being dedicated to the upbringing of children, and watching over and protecting the mystical body of Christ, the Church.
As pontiff, the Holy Father identifies his charge as “the builder of bridges with God and between people.” He is charged with alleviating the spiritual poverty of our age by drawing our minds and hearts toward God, by protecting “God’s plan inscribed in nature,” and by encouraging an intimacy with God and neighbor. He hopes to encourage the whole world to embrace the task of “fighting poverty, both material and spiritual” by drawing humanity to our source and summit—God Himself.