I am not a Pope-watcher, but don’t you just love Pope Francis? I just happened upon a few articles that describe what he’s been up to recently while leading the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in our world. Several weeks ago, in a closed-door session on November 23, Pope Francis shared with the Roman Catholic bishops of Italy what he calls his Eight Beatitudes for Bishops. Because The United Methodist Church and other denominations have female bishops, I have alternated feminine and male pronouns in these eight beatitudes below. I think the Pope’s words to his bishops reflect the teaching of the humility of Christ and apply to all of us.
- Blessed is the bishop who makes poverty and sharing her lifestyle because, with her witness, she builds the Kingdom of Heaven.
- Blessed is the bishop who is not afraid to wet his face with tears so that in them may be reflected the sorrow of the people; and blessed is the work of priests/clergy, who find God’s consolation in the embrace with those who suffer.
- Blessed is the bishop who considers her ministry a service and not a power, who makes meekness her strength, and gives everyone a right to a place in her heart, so as to give the promised land to the weak.
- Blessed is the bishop who does not shut himself up in government buildings, who does not become a bureaucrat more attentive to statistics than to faces, to procedures than to stories, who seeks to fight alongside people for God’s dream of justice because the Lord, encountered in the silence of daily prayer, will nourish him.
- Blessed is the bishop who has a heart for the misery of the world, who is not afraid to dirty her hands with the mud of the human soul in order to find the gold of God there; who is not scandalized by the sin and fragility of others because she knows her own misery because the look of the Risen Crucified One will be the seal of infinite forgiveness.
- Blessed is the bishop who stays away from the duplicity of the heart, who avoids every ambiguous dynamic, who dreams of the good even in the midst of evil, because he will be able to rejoice in the face of God, finding God’s reflection in every puddle in the city of people.
- Blessed is the bishop who works for peace, who walks along the path of reconciliation, who plants the seed of communion in the hearts of priests/clergy, who accompanies a divided society along the path of reconciliation, and who takes every man and woman of goodwill by the hand to build sisterhood: God will recognize her as her daughter.
- Blessed is the bishop who is not afraid to go against the current for the Gospel and hardens his face like Jesus going to Jerusalem, without letting himself be stopped by misunderstandings and obstacles because he knows that the Kingdom of God moves forth against the world.
I have to admit that the royal regalia and pomp and circumstance of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Italy can be perceived as a disconnect with the simplicity of their message. Yet Pope Francis’ Beatitudes for Bishops apply to all of us, don’t they? They describe the life of humility, faith, and service to which we are all called as disciples of Jesus, whether clergy or laity. Just a few days ago, on December 10, Pope Francis visited a Nativity scene, which was temporarily inside the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall because of weather. This took place during the Pope’s audience with delegations from both Italy and Peru, who respectively donated the Christmas tree and Nativity scene that is displayed in St. Peter’s Square.
In a brief talk, Pope Francis said these words, “Let’s not live a fake Christmas, please, a commercial Christmas,” the pope advised. “Let us allow ourselves to be wrapped up in the closeness of God, this closeness which is compassionate, which is tender; wrapped in the Christmas atmosphere that art, music, songs, and traditions bring into the heart.” The Pope’s words struck a deep chord in my own heart.
The Pope urged people to not let Christmas be “polluted by consumerism and indifference.” The symbols of Christmas, especially the nativity and Christmas tree, “bring us back to the certainty that fills our hearts with peace, to the joy of the Incarnation,” he said. The regional government of Huancavelica was especially grateful to be chosen to present the manger to Pope Francis, as Peru celebrates the bicentennial of their independence.
The Vatican’s 2021 nativity scene was unveiled in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on the afternoon of Dec. 10. The nativity came from the small town of Chopcca, in Peru, nestled at more than 12,000 feet, high in the Andes. It features 35 life-sized figures made by expert artisans from the Huancavelica region and includes both people dressed in the typical Chopcca clothing and animals local to Peru, including a condor, the country’s national symbol. Expressing his gratitude to the delegations for their gifts, the pope said that the traditional garments worn by the figures in the Nativity scene “represent the people of the Andes and symbolize the universal call to salvation.” Starting on December 10 and lasting forty-five days, more than one hundred million tourists are expected to visit the Andean manger in St. Peter’s Square.
As I ponder the words of Pope Francis to his bishops and the Christmas celebrations in St. Peter’s Square, I wonder.
- How might we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, give ourselves away as we engage in acts of service, love, and hope during Advent?
- How can we lead the way by refusing to be sucked into consumerism and indifference during this sacred season?
- How can we dream of the good even in the midst of evil, finding God’s reflection in every puddle in the city of people?
- How might we share our lifestyle, work for peace, and lead others along the path of reconciliation?
- Do we have the courage to dirty our hands with the mud of the human soul in order to find the gold of God there?
- With faces wet with tears, dare we boldly confront the brokenness of our world, called to embrace all those who suffer and live in despair?
Blessed are all who devote their lives to embodying the eight beatitudes of Pope Francis and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ during this Advent season.