Our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, is quite the enigma. Like was noted by theologian John Courtney Murray concerning Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Saint John XXIII, the symbol for him might very well be the question mark.
As a Jesuit, he has had remarkable formation and education, but it might be very difficult to pinpoint who his intellectual influences really are; it might be difficult to ascertain who are the thinkers of the past and the presence that the Holy Father turns to in making decisions.
By his own admission, one book in particular really influenced Pope Francis’ world view and we can be pleased that it was by an American, “Triumph Through Failure: A Theology of the Cross,” published in 1974, by Jesuit Father John Navone.
“Patience is a theme that I have pondered over the years after having read the book,” said the pope.
Father Navone’s own words give us insight into the thinking of the Holy Father: “Christian life is essentially the outworking of Christ’s life within us, expressing the Spirit of Christ poured into our hearts. The incarnate Lord was not merciful, generous, forgiving, and so on, in order to win approval from heaven, since heaven was his very environment. His good works are the expression of who he is.”
The Holy Father’s current trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, his pastoral concern evident in his apostolic exhortation, his support of immigrants, and even his general demeanor are all examples of a man who is patient, meeting people where they are on their own personal life journeys, and ready to serve their needs, all the while preaching the belief that Jesus was born as a man and lived among us in order to show us the Way to eternal life.
These are fitting words as we meditate upon the Feast of Christmas – Christ’s Incarnation – as we prepare during Advent to greet anew Our Savior.
As we enter into this season of Advent, we can feel the groaning of a tired world, one aching to be set free from the burden of pride and impatience. Advent is all about waiting in joyful hope and expectation.
Father Navone’s work, which has such a tremendous influence on the Holy Father, might be good material for us to reflect on this Advent season, as we prepare to recognize the three comings of Christ – once in history, in his glorious coming in the future, and each day, being born in our hearts.