Way of the Cross Begins

Even before the inauguration of the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome on March 18, the tremendous groundswell of hope and good will attending the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio on March 13 as the 266th successor of St. Peter is itself testimony to the truth of the Gospel. As Pope Francis reminded his brother cardinals, “Christian truth is attractive and persuasive because it responds to the profound need of human life, proclaiming convincingly that Christ is the one Savior of the whole man and of all men. This proclamation remains as valid today as it was at the origin of Christianity, when the first great missionary expansion of the Gospel took place.”

Without making any sweeping proclamations, writing any new books, transferring any large amounts of wealth or power, or even sporting the languages he may know – the Holy Father, thus far, has only spoken in Italian – Pope Francis is bearing witness to the eternal truth of the Gospel message: the world is looking for redemption that only comes from the mercy of Jesus Christ through the Way of the Cross!

Another Francis, standing before Pope Innocent III as he sought permission to found a new order in Assisi, was asked by the pontiff what his rule would be. The Gospel, Francis replied. We do not know exactly which passages he proposed but, judging from the rules that eventually shaped the three orders he was to found, Francis was inspired by the Lord’s call to take up our cross each day, leave everything else behind and follow him.

Pope Francis has already been able to touch the hearts of many because he is calling us to live the clear standard of the Gospel. We have no doubt he understands well the need for reform – he has used the word “purification” – within the Church as well as the unjust structures that plague society of which the list is long and formidable. His priority, as is becoming clear, is to begin with relationships, not governance structures, though that is almost certain to come. His closeness with the people, beginning as Bishop of Rome with the people under his immediate pastoral care, extending through Italy and to the entire world, is attested to every day.

Much like his namesake from Assisi, his “program” appears to be the Gospel itself, lived as Christ would live it in us today. “What would Jesus do?” (WWJD) is an oft-cited sound-byte of advice on how to live an authentic Christian life. This simple prescription, however, is challenged by the many different and complex situations in which all disciples of Christ find themselves each day. By his example, Pope Francis is already showing us how even the busiest, most “important” people can find time to pray, visit the sick, be in communication with God and one another – and even be silent! – despite the many pressing demands of modern living. How is it that holy people, like a Mother Teresa, could find time to pray each day as many hours as they work? It would appear that Pope Francis is going to show us how.

As we enter the holiest week of our year, we hope that every reader will, first of all, find the time and place to seek the forgiveness of God and neighbor, taking advantage of the many opportunities for sacramental Penance, notably this Monday in virtually all our local churches from 3 till 9 p.m. Experiencing personally the mercy of God and then extending it to others is the beginning of peace in families, workplaces, organizations, nations and the entire world.

We also hope and pray that all Catholics in the metropolitan area will make the sacrifice of time to come together in their parishes for the liturgical celebrations commemorating the Way of the Cross, to renew and deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ. As Pope Francis exhorts us: “When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

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