Lessons Francis learned

Papal Impressions

Rev. José Mario O. Mandía

In his meeting with young people at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila last January 18, the Holy Father praised the generosity of the youth. However, he said, it was also important to receive, to beg, to know our poverty, to be evangelized. It is important not only to love, but to learn to be loved, not to be self-sufficient. As Benedict XVI had written in Deus Caritas Est, (yes, I have repeatedly quoted this phrase) man “cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift.”

Pope Francis gave living proof of how he lets himself be evangelized. The first question fired at him during the return flight to Rome was about what lessons he learned from his trip. His reply: “The gestures! The gestures moved me. They are not protocol gestures, they are good gestures, felt gestures, gestures of the heart. Some almost make one weep. There’s everything there: faith, love, the family, the illusions, the future.” So what are these gestures? Let me just copy what he said (the subheadings are mine).

GESTURES OF FATHERHOOD  “That gesture of the fathers who think of their children so that the Pope will bless them. Not the gesture of one unique father. There were many who thought of their children when we passed by on the road. A gesture which in other places one does not see, as if they say ‘this is my treasure, this is my future, this is my love, for this one it’s worth working, for this one it’s worth suffering’. A gesture that is original, but born from the heart.”

GESTURES OF JOY AND ENTHUSIASM “A second gesture that struck me very much is an enthusiasm that is not feigned, a joy, a happiness, a capacity to celebrate. Even under the rain, one of the masters of ceremonies told me that he was edified because those who were serving in Tacloban, under the rain, never lost the smile. It’s the joy, not feigned joy. It wasn’t a false smile. No, no! It was a smile that just came out, and behind that smile there is a normal life, there are pains, problems.”

GESTURES OF MOTHERHOOD. “Then there were the gestures of the mothers who brought their sick children. Indeed mothers in general bring them there. But usually mothers did not lift the children up so much, only up to here. The dads do, one sees them. Here dad! Then many disabled children, with disabilities that make some impression; they did not hide the children, they brought them to the Pope so that he would bless them: ‘This is my child, he is this way, but he is mine’. All mothers know this, they do this. But it’s the way they did this that struck me. The gesture of fatherhood, of motherhood, of enthusiasm, of joy.”

FAITH AND ABANDONMENT IN GOD’S HANDS. “There’s a word that’s difficult for us to understand because it has been vulgarized too much, too badly used, too badly understood, but it’s a word that has substance: resignation. A people who knows how to suffer, and is capable of rising up.

“Yesterday, I was edified at the talk I had with the father of Kristel, the young woman volunteer who died in Tacloban. He said she died in service, he was seeking words to confirm himself to this situation, to accept it. A people that knows how to suffer, that’s what I saw and how I interpreted the gestures.”

The gestures that Pope Francis talks of need no explanation. As for the last one, the Holy Father says that the word “resignation” has been “vulgarized”, “badly used”, “badly understood”. For many people it implies defeatism, or indolence. For others it means fatalism. This has nothing to do with Christian resignation.

Christian resignation springs from the conviction that we are children of God, as Jesus himself taught us. It comes from the knowledge that this God who wants us to call him “Daddy” is far wiser, far more good, far more powerful than any of his creatures. That being so, all his plans  are the best for us, better than the plans we ourselves make up.

When we say that “something goes wrong”, it means that it did not go according to OUR plan. There is a maxim we should always remember: “Man proposes, God disposes.” Our faith tells us that something cannot happen unless it is at least allowed by God to happen. And if he allows it to happen, we can be 100% sure that that event can bring us some good, IF we handle it the way God wants us to handle it.

Resignation or abandonment in God’s hands requires two steps: accept reality as it is, then use it to our own spiritual advantage. This requires a spirit of communication with God our Father, to find out what his plan for us is. It requires us to look at Jesus, our older Brother, the Beloved Son, so that he can teach us how we ought to carry out the Father’s plan. It requires us to have recourse to the Holy Spirit, so that he will give us the light and strength we need. And finally, it invites us to ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, so that she may back up our prayers with her most powerful intercession.

This authentic Christian resignation is what Pope Francis is talking about, not the kind that leaves us wallowing in self-pity. It is the abandonment that gives us “an enthusiasm that is not feigned, a joy, a happiness, a capacity to celebrate.” It is the ability that makes of us a “people who knows how to suffer, and is capable of rising up.”

[Damir Sagolj / Reuters]

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