Grace: To reform my own heart during this Lenten season in order to collaborate with Pope Francis in reforming the Church
Text for Prayer: Matthew 16:18 and the “Autobiography of St. Ignatius”
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it.”
Reflection: Peter was a mouse who became a lion. And “the rock” today is a 76-year old Jesuit priest who studied chemistry, joined the Society of Jesus at age 22, and taught high school literature as a seminarian before embarking on greater ecclesiastical paths. He is the first Pope Francis, the first pope from Latin America, and the first Jesuit pope. Leading the faithful in simple prayers (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be) for the retired pope, bowing awkwardly in silence to ask the people’s blessing before giving them his own, and surprisingly ordinary in his vulnerability, he is unmistakably a Jesuit.
As cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires, he lives in a simple dwelling and takes public transportation to work. He visits AIDS patients and the poor. He has only one lung due to a childhood illness. Today he will pray to the Virgin Mary at St. Mary Major.
In his initial appearance to the world this week, everything about Pope Francis bespoke a forward-looking humility, and a very new sort of pope.
Where Benedict looked to recover the past, Francis looks to engage the future. While Benedict XVI chose a papal name that followed a long line of predecessors, Francis chose a name unprecedented among popes. Benedict emerged on the balcony eight years ago in full papal regalia, but Francis emerged yesterday in simple white robes with an iron pectoral cross, only putting on his stole for the apostolic blessing before removing it again. If Benedict revived the Catholic liturgical traditions and culture of his childhood in an effort to restore the faith to secularized Europe, Francis appears focused on the future of a global reality in which the gap between rich and poor widens every day in an increasingly selfish descent into secularism.
In the spirit of his religious father St. Ignatius of Loyola, and of his namesake St. Francis of Assisi, the new pope’s only weapons in this struggle will be faith and prayer.
As we continue on our own Lenten journey, we might reflect on the first humble images of this papacy, asking God to guide our new Holy Father in his efforts to reform a Church that desperately needs a new light for the future. As a man of the Spiritual Exercises, Pope Francis undoubtedly knows that true reform only happens when the heart of each individual believer finds itself broken in a self-sacrificing turn back to God. Until we learn to love God and others as ourselves, no material support will ever be enough to save the poor.
We read of St. Ignatius Loyola’s later years in Rome that his “devotion always went on increasing, that is, the ease with which he found God, which was then greater than he had ever had in his life. Whenever he wished, at whatever hour, he could find God” (Autobiography of St. Ignatius #99, Tr. William J. Young). Leading the early Jesuits from Rome was not an easy life for Ignatius. His tears flowed daily as he sought God’s will for the fledgling religious order he had founded under a vow of special obedience to the pope, little dreaming that one of his sons would one day rise to the papacy itself.
Today let us pray that Pope Francis will find the same grace in Rome that St. Ignatius received there. In union with His Holiness, let us beg God for the grace to purify our hearts ever more deeply from the egoism that tears our world apart one human heart at a time. And once we have prayed for this interior reform, let us fearlessly act on it each day for the greater glory of God, building up the kingdom on the rock of sacrificial love that no earthly power can destroy.