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Memories and Reflections on when Pope Francis was selected and his Jesuit and Franciscan emphasis on simplicity, humility and The Beatitudes, intertwined with my personal faith walk.
Pic: Public Domain - Pope Francis bowing to the faithful in St. Peter's Square, 12 March 2013
Pope Francis & The Beatitudes
With the recent selection of Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, “Pope Francis,” as the first Jesuit pontiff for the Catholic Church, I cannot pass over a chance to reflect upon some heartfelt feelings about what appears to be a wonderful opportunity to rebuild the Church as the beloved St. Francis of Assisi, whose namesake the new pontiff chose, had done many centuries ago! And the memories of that special moment in time when Pope Francis was selected are forever etched into my heart, mind and soul!
How exciting it truly was to hear the news of the selection of a new Pope last week while I was on the phone with my wife, Maria, at lunch. I had been listening for awhile to the radio in my car in anticipation of a likely selection of a new pontiff and took a break to make my usual midday call to Maria. We were talking about ordinary and simple things of the day and matters of concerns when all of a sudden, my wife interjected, “I see white smoke, I see white smoke – yes, it continues to billow out white smoke not like the other times!”
Maria had been “Pope Watching” per EWTN on the television, so she had a "bird's eye" view of what was going on! It was so exciting to know that a new pope had been chosen by the other Cardinals but at that point, we still didn't know the name of the successor for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who had retired not long ago – something that had not been done since the 1400s!
Since I had to get back to work, I joined some other colleagues who had “smart phones,” and was actually able to intermittently visually check on the status as to when the new pope would actually be introduced and make his first public address. That hour or so that elapsed from when I had heard from my wife about the white smoke and to when the new pontiff actually appeared on the balcony over-looking St. Peter's Square in Rome seemed like an eternity!
After a few false alarms, when I had gone to check what I thought was the sound of an impending announcement, I finally rushed over to a co-worker's cubicle when I heard a louder sound coming from her phone – like a roaring crowd. Sure enough, the little depiction on my friend's cell phone of the curtain being opened at the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica was the sign that all the faithful had been looking for – the announcement and introduction of the new pope was about to take place!
Finally, when it was made known who the new pope was and he came out to greet the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square and the world over per technology, you'd have thought that Baton Rouge had its first earthquake ever – that's how much of a rumble I could literally feel in the office! I think the closest I ever got to experiencing that was when the New Orleans Saints won their first Superbowl back in 2009!
Next, everyone – my co-workers, visitors in Rome, news reporters, etc. had to scramble to try to figure out who this new pope from Argentina was! He certainly was not on the “top ten” list for many prognosticators who had been noted as a likely successor to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. I, myself, was wondering if we might actually get the first American pope selected this time around.
What a joy and excitement I still feel as we all have subsequently come to know more now about this simple and humble Jesuit priest who has taken on the name of the Pope Francis, in recognition to St. Francis of Assisi, who had been told by God that he needed to rebuild the Church, which certainly has many challenges to address, as it always has. Since St. Francis was such a lover of all of God's creation and literally was known to communicate directly with even animals, including birds, it is no surprise that some “Cardinals” have continued this tradition and conveyed the guiding message of the Holy Spirit, as figuratively shown as a “Dove,” to direct the Church to continue building up and rebuilding more closely the “Body of Christ,” as exemplified through all denominations and faith walks!
I found myself breaking into tears when I witnessed Pope Francis humbly bow to the people gathered in St. Peter's Square and had invited them and all of us to pray for him and his awesome responsibility of shepherding the Church! And it was so special to pray the "Our Father," "Hail Mary" and "Glory Be" in unison with him!
I was blessed to do a year of volunteer work back in 1981 -82 as a lay person per the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), similar to the Peace Corps, when I became more aware of the heartfelt mission of that Order. I had been exposed earlier in my life also to the Jesuits per my upbringing in New Orleans growing up in the Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish, which is still administered by the Jesuit Religious Order in the Catholic Church.
Also, I had attended college at Loyola University in New Orleans and was blessed to be taught and work with many Jesuit Brothers and Priests, who were well known to not only be actively engaged in missionary work, as was embodied by St. Francis Xavier, but also in academic theological excellence, as shown by St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuits; the latter are affectionately known as the “Society of Jesus.”
I was also blessed to be involved at college in their outreach to the poor per LUCAP (Loyola Community Action Program), prison ministry to Jackson Barracks, respect life ministry and music ministry, so I like to say that I was “corrupted by the Jesuits!” I still go yearly to Manresa House of Retreats, run by the Jesuits, in Convent, LA, to better put into practice the “Spiritual Exercises,” which St. Ignatius had developed.
At one point in my college days, I had actually considered a vocation to the priesthood but never thought I was “smart enough” to become one. After I met and learned a lot of music ministry from some Jesuits, I used to tease them that, “after seeing how y'all were able to become Jesuits, I guess I could have made it!” But God had other plans for me, including a vocation to the married life!
The JVC experience was very “Franciscan” in nature, as it emphasized the Ignatian values of spiritual growth, simple living, community with other JVs and those they serve and the pursuit of social justice. We used to say that the JVC lifestyle “ruined you for life,” which still pertains to how it tends to be counter-cultural to the rampant materialism and self-interest that is so commonly promoted nowadays in society.
So as we join Pope Francis in helping to rebuild the Church, the Body of Christ, especially during the sacred time of Passover and Holy Week, let us join together with him to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8),” as the new pontiff has so simply and greatly demonstrated to us! Pope Francis sincerely seems to be putting a needed emphasis on making the Beatitudes as front and center stage for the Church to live out.
Keith John Paul Horcasitas, LCSW, MHA, 1133 Knollhaven Drive, BRLA 70810, khorcasitas.yahoo.com, March 17, 2013.