Guest Columnist Happy Birthday and Thank You, Pope Francis!

Pope Francis blows out candles on a cake for his 78th birthday in St. Peter's Square. Pope Francis blows out candles on a cake for his 78th birthday in St. Peter's Square./ L'Osservatore Romano.

Happy Birthday, Pope Francis!

You are a true gift to this world and to our Church. It is through your insistence on love that you have redirected our faith to its original essence. Certainly, we have always known the importance of love. St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians in which he says “You are nothing without love” is the most common reading in weddings. And we all long for love, sometimes sub-consciously and sometimes secretly, because our pride gets in the way.

However, other aspects of the Church’s teachings seemed to have reduced love to mere abstraction. In our efforts to “get everything right,” we came to condemn and judge, and gave in to bitterness. We were often distracted from Christ’s and God’s essential nature and were lost in darkness despite great outward piety. God is love! And whenever we feel love through loving and receiving someone else’s love, we have a sense of God’s much greater and eternal love for each one of us. It is only through love that we come to understand God.

You have reminded us that when we truly love, we accept the other’s brokenness and recognize his pain and struggles. We must strive to see through the veneer of hardened oppositions and recognize our shared humanity. Only then can we extend our hand through the wall of thorns that often separates us and feel solidarity as children of a loving God.

Through your insistence on mercy towards everyone, you have made me aware of the deeper meaning of my own love towards my children. It is only when we understand God’s love as maternal love that we sense its boundlessness, its completeness. It is hard to conceive of a mother who would ever abandon or reject her child. A mother will wait and long for her child and forgive and approach her child and will try to understand its weakness and pain and empathize. In fact, most mothers will choose to bear the pain of their children rather than see their child suffer in any way. By putting love at the center of our faith, I have learned to view my own maternal love as a guide in all relations. Transcending one’s comfort zone and feeling tenderness even towards strangers, gives a sense both of liberation and of God’s great and boundless love. Personally, and especially as a mother, I have come to understand what it really means to “walk with Christ.” Thank you!

I often think of St. Francis as having taught us to love and embrace the world in its entirety. And it was his authentic humility that lifted him up to partake in the glory of God’s love for all. His was a true love affair with God’s creation that made him rejoice with gratitude simply for being alive. And what better place to be? I hope that is precisely where you are today, on the day of your birthday!  

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