For all of us, this was also the first Easter celebrated with our new Pope Francis. In my prayers during this time, I have been trying to accompany Pope Francis as he begins his ministry as the Vicar of Christ on earth.
And already, he has given us many examples of goodness, humility and tender pastoral love for the family of God.
I have been listening carefully to Pope Francis’ words, trying to understand the heart and mind of our new Holy Father.
One theme keeps coming up – how the Church must “go out from itself” and fight the temptation to become inward looking and self-absorbed. In fact, this was the theme of his talk to the College of Cardinals before the conclave that elected him.
In that talk, he said: “The Church is called to come out from itself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographical, but also the existential: those of the mystery of sin, of suffering, of injustice, those of ignorance and absence of faith, those of thought, those of every form of misery.”
“Our new Pope is reminding us that everything starts from our deep life of prayer and our intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. But we can’t stop there. We can’t forget that the Church exists to evangelize.”
Pope Francis is saying that all of us in the Church need to come out of our pious “shells” – the comfortable patterns and practices that keep us “protected” from the demands of truly living our faith in our everyday life. We need to overcome our natural tendencies to self-centeredness so that we can really live for the good of others and for the Church’s mission.
Pope Francis says: “We are called to follow in his footsteps. … To step outside ourselves so as to attend to the needs of others; those who long for a sympathetic ear, those in need of comfort or help. We should not simply remain in our own secure world, that of the ninety-nine sheep who never strayed from the fold. But we should go out, with Christ, in search of the one lost sheep, however far it may have wandered. … going out in search of others so as to bring them the light and the joy of our faith in Christ.”
“Self-referential” is a word that I’ve noticed a lot in our new Pope’s writings and talks. What he means is that we are always tempted to focus too much on our own ministries, our own internal structures and programs. When we do this, we lose our evangelical instincts. We become “managers” not apostles, Pope Francis says.
Our new Pope is reminding us that everything starts from our deep life of prayer and our intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. But we can’t stop there. We can’t forget that the Church exists to evangelize. We can’t forget that the gift of faith is given to us so that we will share it with others.
When we know Christ and love Christ, we have the duty to share that knowledge and love with others. Faith increases when it is tested and shared. So the more we go out and give of ourselves and our faith, the more our faith will grow. “The power of grace … comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others,” the Pope says.
In his talk before the conclave, Pope Francis referred to the ancient Catholic idea of the mysterium lunae (“the mystery of the moon”).
The Church Fathers used to say that the Church is like the moon and Christ is the sun. The moon has no light of its own. It only reflects the light of the sun.
This should also be true for each of us as disciples and for the Church. Like the “moon,” we have no light of our own. We have only the light that comes to us from the “sun” of Jesus Christ. So we are called to reflect in our own lives the light of Jesus Christ. We are called to bring his light into our world. To scatter the darkness through our faithful witness to his Resurrection.
So in this beautiful season of Easter, let us pray for one another and let us try to unite ourselves more closely to our new Pope Francis.
And let us ask our Blessed Mother to support us as we try to go outside ourselves, to seek the lost, and to reflect the light of Christ in our ministries and in everything we do.
Reprinted with permission from The Tidings, official newspaper for the diocese of Los Angeles.
Most Rev. José H. Gomez is the Archbishop of Los Angeles, California.