Humility and courage connect Pope Francis, Benedict XVI

Archbishop Nienstedt reflects on papal transition

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, right, now Pope Francis, is pictured traveling by subway in Buenos Aires in 2008. CNS photo / Diego Fernandez Otero, Clarin handout via Reuters

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, right, now Pope Francis, is pictured traveling by subway in Buenos Aires in 2008. CNS photo / Diego Fernandez Otero, Clarin handout via Reuters

What a joyous time in the life of our universal Catholic Church!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I are so blessed to be witnesses to one of the most significant moments in the history of our Church. As has now been widely reported, the last time that a sitting pope resigned from the papacy was 600 years ago. And now, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, with whom my brother bishops of Minnesota and I had the privilege of meeting one year ago almost to the day, has retired to a life of prayer and meditation.

He is not without a mission; he will now serve the Church in a new but critically important way. And, indeed, we can be assured of the power of his prayers for the good of the universal Church. This is truly a blessing and a remarkable turn of events.

The election of our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been equally significant and surprising. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was not on anyone’s “list,” or at least not on the radar of the bevy of pundits and the professional chattering class.

But during these recent days, we have been reminded that the only “list” that matters is the one written by the Author of Life, and indeed, I believe it was the will of the Holy Spirit that this humble man and deeply dedicated servant of Christ was the one who rose with clarity in the minds and hearts of the cardinal electors.

Twin themes

As I have reflected and prayed about these events, I have been moved by twin themes that connect Pope Francis and Benedict XVI: humility and courage. It was clearly with humility and courage that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made his decision to cede the papacy to a successor who could carry on the physically demanding and far-reaching duties to which he could no longer apply himself with vigor.

As we have come to learn in the days since his election, it has also been with humility and courage that Cardinal Bergoglio has lived out his vocation of service to the People of God, which is Christ’s Church.

The many examples of his leadership and service, both from his past and his recent actions, paint a clear picture of a humble man of sincerity, simplicity, and a deep and abiding love for God and neighbor, especially for the poor and forgotten.

It was with humility that he bowed before the faithful that had gathered and remained in the rain for hours outside St. Peter’s Basilica.  He asked humbly for their blessing. He asked also for our blessing.

And it was with humility that he selected the name Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, a great saint who lived out the word of our Lord Jesus Christ in every action with radical simplicity and verve.

With St. Francis as a model, we can expect our new Holy Father to be a courageous and indefatigable defender of the whole of Catholic social and moral teaching — in belief, word and deed. Like St. Francis, he will lead with great compassion for the poor and the marginalized, and he will continue, as he has as priest, bishop and cardinal, to “walk the talk.”

As the first Jesuit pope, there is more to the selection of the name Francis than may be obvious. That a Jesuit would select the name of the founder of the Franciscan order demonstrates a humble desire for unity. Indeed, that we may all be one.

Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the window of his private apartment as he leads his first Angelus in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 17. CNS photo / L'Osservatore Romano

Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the window of his private apartment as he leads his first Angelus in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 17. CNS photo / L’Osservatore Romano

Leading by example

My dear brothers and sisters, truly, this is an extraordinary time for us as Catholics. It is an important time in the history of the world as well.

In many ways, we are at an historical crossroads between the fever-pitch pull of the things of this world and the beckoning of God, who unceasingly calls to us “Come back! I love you! Come home to a place of peace and true freedom.”

Which call will we heed? How will we help others hear this call and offer a response? And, yes, this call will require from all of us the twin virtues of humility and courage.

In response to this vast challenge of our time, our Holy Father will lead by example. We ought to pledge our love, commitment and ongoing prayers to him. He has already shown us, like our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the face of humility and courage. In a world that needs to know the person of Jesus Christ now more than ever, we can expect that Pope Francis will be a bold voice for faith and reason.

In his first homily, Pope Francis said: “I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage — the courage — to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the blood of the Lord, which is shed on the cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.”

Our Holy Father is showing us the way of humility, and is already rallying us to walk boldly with courage, knowing that the way of our Lord necessarily means the embrace of the cross. All of us as Christian disciples are called to bring the light and life of Jesus Christ into the lives of others, a mission we unfortunately know will continue to find opposition in our world.

During this historic moment in the life of the Church, let us all rejoice in the blessing of Pope Francis. Let us together, united in faith, hope and love, follow the example of both Benedict XVI and Francis to build up this Church for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, with humility and courage.

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Category: Only Jesus