Pope Francis Offers the World an Example of True Leadership
The world has not listened to God or His vicars throughout much of human history
It's a trifecta! For me, Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI were a unique team that no one could follow; but with the election of Cardinal Bergoglio as the new Pope, I can see a seamless flow between all three. We we need to ask ourselves, do we see the dignity and value of our neighbor that John Paul II saw in him or her? Do we honestly thirst for truth like Benedict? Do we have the humility and courage to submit to the truth and live our lives in loving service and simplicity like Pope Francis? To a certain extent, our answers to these three questions will determine what the world will be like in the future
Blessed John Paul II gave me a beautiful vision of human dignity and our ultimate destiny in The Theology of the Body. Benedict exposed the popular thinking of our age as a lot of hot air and as a "dictatorship of relativism." He also showed me the reasonableness of the Christian faith. Now, it appears that Pope Francis is poised to give the world something that it desperately needs: humble and courageous leadership.
Of course, there is more to these three men than I have indicated, and there is much overlap between them. However, it is these qualities that stand out most for me. In this respect, Pope Francis' example of leadership reminds me of the leadership that Jesus himself exercised.
Jesus told the apostles, "Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20:26-28). He also gave a visible sign of his leadership in the Gospel of John, chapter 13, verses 14 and 15: "If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do."
In general, all Catholic Popes reflect this kind of leadership, who, by tradition, are called the "Servants of the Servants of God." But Pope Francis appears to have a particular sensitivity to the kind of leadership Jesus exemplified.
For instance, when he was the Bishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, his motto was miserando atque eligendo. A rough English translation would be "lowly but chosen." He also lived a simple lifestyle. Instead of staying at the bishop's residence, he lived in a small apartment, and he cooked his own meals. He also used public transportation instead of the chauffeured limousine normally reserved for the Bishop of Buenos Aires.
He continued his humble ways immediately after being chosen as the next Pope. We witnessed it in the way he addressed the world for the first time as the Pope, and in his decision later that day to take the bus back to his hotel instead of the Vatican motorcade. We witnessed it again when he chose to keep his old motto, "lowly but chosen," as the Pope; and we continue to witness it to this day.
But humility is not his only trait. When he was a cardinal, he challenged Argentina's leaders on moral issues. It seems Cardinal Bergoglio's outspokenness annoyed former President Nestor Kirchner, who saw him as a political rival. He also had tense relations with Kirchner's widow, the current president of Argentina, Cristina Fernadez de Kirchner, especially over the government's efforts to legalize marriage between homosexuals.
He also spoke out against other prevailing issues in Argentina. He called abortion and euthanasia "abominable crimes," and he denounced the inhumane treatment of the elderly. In a joint statement of Latin-American bishops, he condemned the rampant trafficking of children and women for the sex trade. He also called Buenos Aires a "bribe-taking city," and he harshly criticized its wealthy citizens for having ignored the needs of the poor.
It does not appear he is about to change his ways now that he is the Pope. I say this for three reasons. First, he picked the name Francis. The name a pope picks is significant. To a certain extent, it gives us insight into the man's past and his future. Saint Francis had a love for humility, simplicity, poverty, nature, and people. He was also called by God to rebuild the Church during a time of corruption.
Second, the day after the election, he prayed at the tomb of Pope Saint Pius V, who was a reformer and swept the Church clean. Pius V also united a confederation of Catholic armies, the Holy League, for the purpose of defending Europe against a Muslim invasion. In 1571, despite the superior strength of the Muslim navy, the Holy League crushed them at the Battle of Lepanto.
The third reason I think Pope Francis' leadership will continue to exemplify courage is because his installation was scheduled on the feast day of Saint Joseph, who is viewed as the protector of the Church. In his homily during the installation Mass, Pope Francis mentioned Saint Joseph's strength and courage. Then he spoke about the vocation of being a "protector."
He said, "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 never forget that authentic power is service." He concluded by reminding us that "Only those who serve with love are able to protect!"
Pope Francis' homily reminds me of something else that Jesus said: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt" (Mt 20:25). Centuries earlier, God warned the Israelites about earthly kings: "The king will take your sons. . . . He will use your daughters. . . . He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves. . . . He will tithe your crops and your flocks. . . . He will take your servants, your best oxen and your asses. . . . And you will become his slaves" (cf. 1 Sam 8:11-18).
The world has not listened to God or His vicars throughout much of human history. Even today, the world is filled with tyrants; however, in addition to monarchies, we now have dictatorships and Marxism to contend with, that is, Fascism, communism, socialism, and massive bureaucracies masquerading as democracies.
Building on God's own revelation and centuries of Church teaching, John Paul II gave the modern world a beautiful vision of the human person. He showed us our great worth, dignity and destiny. But many secular leaders in government, economics, education, and culture have rejected this vision. Instead, they see human beings as nothing more than the apex of material evolution.
Instead of Benedict XVI's insatiable, rational search for truth, many secular leaders either do not believe in objective truth, or they believe it cannot be known. They see only relative truths, narratives and rationalizations. Consequently, they see chaos and meaninglessness as the essence of reality and human existence, instead of unity, beauty and goodness.
While Pope Francis humbly submits to the will of God, which he even finds "inscribed in nature," many secular leaders see the state as absolute power. And in their arrogance they use that power to enact arbitrary laws and force other people into submission, while they exempt themselves. In his book, The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis basically tells us that the world will eventually be divided into two classes of people, the conditioned and the conditioners, if this trend is allowed to continue.
Lewis says the conditioners control the values. They do not obey them. They are above any value system. But what controls the conditioners? Lewis says that they are subject only to their impulses. Under these circumstances, we can only hope that the conditioners will have benevolent impulses. But Lewis doubts that benevolence will prevail. He says he is pressed to find such examples in history. He believes that the conditioners will grow to hate the conditioned.
This is not true leadership. In his homily, Pope Francis gave us an idea what true leadership looks like when he called on secular leaders to be "protectors." To be a "protector" requires courage and loving service. But many leaders today are afraid to rock the boat and give wide berth to evil. And some leaders are little more than self-serving opportunists seeking social status, privilege and wealth.
Of course, not all leaders fall into these categories, nor will our future be determined by our leaders alone. Pope Francis also said the vocation of being a "protector" includes all people. He said, "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. . . ."
Therefore, we need to ask ourselves, do we see the dignity and value of our neighbor that John Paul II saw in him or her? Do we honestly thirst for truth like Benedict? Do we have the humility and courage to submit to the truth and live our lives in loving service and simplicity like Pope Francis? To a certain extent, our answers to these three questions will determine what the world will be like in the future.
Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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