This week, on March 13, we marked the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ pontificate.
Much has been written about the Holy Father’s impact on the Church and on the world, and there is much more that can be said about his work to renew the Vatican and inspire new ways of thinking for how the Church carries out her mission in the world.
But as I have been praying for the pope and reflecting this week, it has struck me that among other things, Pope Francis has been the pope of the personal and the practical, the pope of everyday life. These five years, his teaching has emphasized the place where the truths of our Faith meet the demands of daily living.
That is why the longest section of “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), which announced the program for his pontificate in 2013, is devoted to the Sunday homily.
Francis knows that while the Church is universal and global, the experience of the Faith for the vast majority of Catholics is personal and parochial.
Where the Faith comes alive — or sometimes fails to — is in their parishes on Sunday morning, in their families and in their contacts with ordinary Christians.
The Church’s mission in the world does not depend on philosophies, programs or strategies, but rather, as Pope Francis knows, how the Faith is passed on depends on how the Faith is lived.
Evangelization comes down to an examination of conscience that everyone in the Church must make: How do we treat one another? What kind of example do we give to our neighbors as Christians?
What matters are not only our words but even more, our actions and attitudes — in our homes, at work, in the decisions we make in the marketplace and in society.
Sadly, Pope Francis reminds us, sometimes it is the personal witness of individual Christians that gets in the way and prevents others from hearing the gospel as good news.
In addition to writing about how to prepare and deliver the homily in “Evangelii Gaudium,” Pope Francis is the first pope to make his own daily homilies widely available.
Every morning, we find him challenging the congregation in his private chapel at Casa Santa Marta — and all of us — to really live the gospel, to really make it the “rule” of our lives and the basis for how we make choices and set priorities.
It is not enough to read the words of the gospel or even to study and meditate on them, he tells us. “The gospel is demanding. It demands to be lived radically and sincerely,” he says. “Jesus asks us to practice the gospel, to live out his words.”
Francis often talks in simple language about what appear to be small matters — gossip, indifference, laziness, greed, humility and hypocrisy.
For me, one of his most memorable homilies was about what he called “three little words” — please, thank you and sorry — that he said are essential to family relationships.
But he understands that these are not small matters, that our Christian life is a struggle between our natural selfishness and Christ’s call to conversion, which is a call to become more like him.
And his advice is often simple — carry a copy of the Gospels in your pocket; live the Beatitudes and practice the Golden Rule.
It is the Christian faith stripped down to its most basic — and its most powerful — finding Jesus and following him.
“The image of Christ is the mirror through which a believer discovers his true self,” the pope tells us.
In these first five years, Pope Francis has wanted us to see that meeting Jesus is where our lives begin. He knows that our hearts are restless for happiness, for love, for God.
“Christ is knocking at the door of your hearts … and my heart, too!” Pope Francis tells us. “He asks us to rise up, to be awake and alert and to see only what really matters in life. What is more, he asks you and me to go out on the streets and roads of this world and knock on the doors of other people’s hearts, inviting them to welcome him into their lives.”
When we open our hearts to Jesus and begin to follow in his footsteps, we find that we are caught up in his mission of love.
This is the meaning of Pope Francis’ beautiful notion that all of us in the Church are called to be missionary disciples, living the joy we have found in Jesus and sharing that joy with others.
Pray for me this week and I will be praying for you.
And let us pray for our Holy Father this week as he begins a new year in his pontificate.
With the help of our Blessed Mother Mary, may Pope Francis continue to proclaim the joy of the gospel and invite all people to a new personal encounter with Jesus Christ.