It has been six months since Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the first pope to take the name Francis, and what a six months has it been. From the early days of his papacy where the social media outlets were exploding with quotes from his daily Masses, shared videos and pictures of seemingly his every move, and tales of his shunning the typical “royal treatment” that usually accompanies his new role in the Church. This past summer at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro was more of the same.
I did not get to attend personally, but I followed the pilgrims’ progress via Facebook and Twitter and tuned in to the Vigil Service and closing Mass. What a scene on the famed Copacabana Beach! There were an estimated 3 million people camping out on a beach… to see the Pope! It was such a powerful display of the faithful, of the young Church, of the magnetism of Pope Francis, of the uniting power of Body of Christ.
Pope Francis did and said many things that have been commented on, but the thing that stands out in my mind was a passing phrase in his homily at the World Youth Day Mass. While reflecting on the Responsorial Psalm he said: “The opening words of the psalm that we proclaimed are: “Sing to the Lord a new song” (Psalm 95:1). What is this new song? It does not consist of words; it is not a melody; it is the song of your life; it is allowing our life to be identified with that of Jesus; it is sharing his sentiments, his thoughts, his actions. And the life of Jesus is a life for others. It is a life of service”
Wow, the new song we sing to the Lord is our life! A life lived for Jesus, a life imitating Jesus, a life that is directed at others, a life of service. That is a song I want to sing!
This message is so needed for the modern world. All too often the song of our lives is off key when compared to this challenge from Francis. We live for our advancement, our pleasure, our desires, our wants, our goals, our agendas, in short, for ourselves.
Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God and commanded us to spread it to the entire world. Not coincidentally “Go and make disciples of all nations" was the theme of World Youth Day 2013.
But how do we make our lives this new song? In the words of Pope Francis: “We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel!” Francis said. “It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people!
If we do this right, he says, we will make a mess. "What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses! I want to see the church get closer to the people.
As I was reflecting on all I saw and heard with regard to World Youth Day, it became clear to me that Pope Francis took the stance of the iconic “Christ the Redeemer” statue that overlooks Rio de Janeiro: Arms open wide in a simultaneously calling, healing, welcoming, and offering of himself for the pilgrims of World Youth Day.
But there is one huge difference between the statue and Francis. The Pope is not immovable and concrete. He not only speaks the “set in stone” teachings of the Church, he animates them with his actions. Yes it is messy when he visits slums and jumps out of the pope-mobile to hug and pray over strangers, but the mess he creates inspires people to live what they believe. And living what we believe is what puts the tone in the note, the beat in the rhythm, and the meaning to the lyric of the song of our lives. So sing to the Lord the song of your life, and let the mess begin!
It has been six months since Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the first pope to take the name Francis, and what a six months has it been.