GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/24 March) — “Let us protect with love all that God has given us!” implored Pope Francis in summarizing his 1,400-word inaugural homily last March 19 that spelled out the “service” that he, “the Bishop of Rome”, and “all of us” are “called to carry out.” This is the focus of his papacy.
He implored all the Roman Catholics – “my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful.” By implication, he invited the dignitaries present representing “the other Churches and ecclesial Communities, … the Jewish … and the other religious communities,” as well as “the Heads of State and Government, the members of the official Delegations from many countries throughout the world, and the Diplomatic Corps” to join hands.
Bits of the homily have been quoted and cited in media reports and commentaries interpolated with and interpreted in the light of the critical issues facing the Catholic Church and perceptions to solve these issues. That is the import of the homily as seen by the world’s media.
Curiously, however, Pope Francis, in his homily, made no direct reference to the crisis in the Catholic Church; he saw the papacy as endowed with power to do service to God’s creation and humanity. A review of the homily will reveal how “the Bishop of Rome” and “all of us” will carry out the “service” according to God’s plan with St. Joseph as the model.
St. Joseph, the Model
Quoting the Gospel (Mt. 1:24), he said that “Joseph … took Mary as his wife” as God commanded. By this, God entrusted to Joseph “the mission” as “the protector… of Mary and Jesus [and] … “the Church” that Blessed John Paul II elucidated in his book, “Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model” (Redemptoris Custos, 1).
Of Joseph’s mission as protector, Pope Francis explains in two questions:
First: “How does Joseph exercise his role as protector?”
In complete faith and obedience to God: ”Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care.”
In complete fidelity as called for in Christian marriage: “As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple.”
As a true father: “… later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop … he taught his trade to Jesus.”
Second: “How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church?
He followed God’s plan. “By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own. … God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit.”
He listend to God and obeyed his command. “Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping.”
He was realistic. “He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions.”
Pope Francis invokes what God teaches through Joseph: “In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!”
Meaning of “Protector”
Pope Francis explains the full meaning of “protector” as a vocation:
It is all embracing. “The vocation of being a “protector,” however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone.” Specifically:
(1) “It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us.”
(2) “It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.”
(3) “It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about.”
(4) “It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents.”
(5) “It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness.”
His exhortation: “In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!”
What if man ignores or refuses his vocation as protector of “God’s gifts”? He warns: “Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened.”
Those who ignore or refuse to live up to their vocation as protectors are likened to King Herod, the killer of innocents. “Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.”
To Global Leaders
He directly addresses political, economic and social leaders and entreated to be protectors: “Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!”
And he exhorts them to be vigilant against the nemesis of leaders – their egos. “But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down!”
Then he speaks of a virtue that leaders as protectors must have. “Here I would add [that] caring, protecting, demands goodness; it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!
His Vision and Mission
Towards the end of his homily, Pope Francis reveals his vision and mission founded on power and service as protector. He is speaking of himself, revealing what he will do. He promises a change bringing hope, hailed by many and extolled by the world’s media that his papacy is for the poor.
Certain Power: “Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, look after my sheep, feed my sheep.”
Service: “Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross.”
Protector: “He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!” [Emphasis supplied]
Facing the Crises
As he is about to end his homily, Pope Francis recalls Abraham, as told by the Apostle St. Paul, who while “hoping against hope, believed”. He must be alluding to the crises in the Church and in the world, in general, and what must be done instead of losing hope.
The Imperative: “
Hoping against hope! Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope!”
The Christian Outlook: “For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like Saint Joseph, the hope that we bring is set against the horizon of God, which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope built on the rock which is God.”
At this point, it should be asked: Is the Pope oblivious of the non-Christians among the dignitaries who have graced his inauguration? Of the world’s seven-billion population, two billions are Christians and only 1.2 billion are Roman Catholics. Will the majority non-Christians take gracefully the Christian outlook?
The Washington Post (March 19, 2013) commented that the Pope “struck a broadly ecumenical tone” when he said that “the vocation of being a ‘protector’ … is not just something involving Christians alone” but “every person” — all humanity. The Post’s view is correct. The protection of the environment involves all; the protection against terrorism; civil unrest, violence and war; economic instability in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, the Americas and Africa involve people of all religions and nations.
[His Call] “To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out;” [The Call to All] “yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!”
In closing, Pope Francis, as he asked for Divine intercession for his ministry, asked all to pray for him: “I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen.”
(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected].)