Take a moment to think about this: the Pope bowed to
you and asked you to pray for him. Can we humble our
selves to do to others likewise?
“When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.”
-Pope Francis, homily in his first Mass as Pope
I’ve got to tell you, we’re more than a week into Pope Francis’ pontificate and there is still a buzz here at the Seminary. It’s as if every meal I sit down to, we’ve still got something new to say about this man. At least to us seminarians, it feels like Francis is a man we can not only look up to, but who we can be like! How can we not be set on fire to be more and more in love with you all when we see even the Pope kissing the feet of the dying, blessing the disabled, choosing to wash the feet of prisoners this coming Holy Thursday, greeting people outside of Mass like any parish priest? I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted to be a priest more than at this moment in the Church! But it’s very important for us to remember it’s not just some guy we’re looking up to.
What is it then that draws us to this man? I’m convinced that it is Christ; the Pope is challenging us to remember who Christ is to us today, here and now. I had a great moment of grace the other day when I realized that it would be silly to fall in love with what Francis is doing without realizing that he’s only pointing to Christ. After all, Jesus did it all first and he did it better!
And in all his humility, I find myself sure that there is a strong fire and passion that feeds this humble man, our Pope. We know that even Christ himself had a humility fueled by passion. It can be really confusing for us to think Jesus could have been a quiet, peaceful man who passively accepted death on a cross when we hear him say that he hopes to set the world on fire (Luke 12:49) or that he passionately made a scene turning over tables at the Temple (John 2:13-22). It becomes a little clearer when we see that this passion that led him to be so bold in life was the same fire in his heart that led him to humbly give his body to us in torture and death on the cross, and so to us in utterly selfless and humble love in the Eucharist.
For those of you who were on the Reawaken retreat last week, I hope you got even the slightest glimpse of this during our Passion Walk. That was so moving for me. There’s no way I can put into words everything I felt that night: the mix of fun and seriousness of getting made up to look like a beaten and battered Jesus, preparing to take up his cross; the physical and emotional exhaustion of carrying that cross up that hill; the vibrations running through the cross every time the whip hit it; the very brief, private conversation Jesus had with Simon, as he was practically carried by him up that hill; the incessant crying of the weeping women and jeers of the crowd; the very real tears of Mary running down her face onto the body of Christ.
I’ve got to admit, though, I had a lot conflicted feelings in playing this kind of role. I’ve never tried to “be” Christ in this way before. I wasn’t sure if I should be doing it. Certainly, as a seminarian growing into a priest, I am called to imitate Christ, as we all are, but in a different kind of way. But this felt a little too obvious, a little too tempting to feel like I was trying to be Christ, rather than to fall in love with him and so to imitate him and to be like him.
But still, there was nowhere else I wanted to be. When I spoke to the Confirmation class and their sponsors last week, I said that I didn’t want to be a distraction to you all from seeing Christ. That is a valuable lesson for all of us, especially for me as a seminarian. The challenge is to see Christ in each other, and to see his passion and his love in each other. We can’t be thinking we are saviors or messiahs, as if we have to be Christ and take on all the pain he went through for us. He did it because only he could, and so that we would not have to! My hope is that it’s not like you saw me pretending to be Christ on the way up that hill. My hope is that God moved you in some way to see his passion and his love as we did our best, gave our all to make it up that hill. I hope we got a real good glimpse at what his love looked like on the cross.
So please, as Lent winds to a close, remember that it was ugly and it was brutal, but the Way of the Cross is part of who we are and part of how we love each other. And know that it’s perfectly ok to fall in love with the humility, the true strength that is in service, and the gentle smile of Pope Francis, but never forget to fall in love with Christ too. He is the source of it all: the One who did it first and did it best.