We have all received a significant and beautiful first message and gift from our new Pope through the patron/namesake he took on when he accepted the call to serve us as our Shepherd: St Francis. What stirs in your heart when you hear that name? How does your soul respond when you pray for our new Pope Francis?
When I heard his chosen name, this chosen patron, I was at once awed and thrilled. Awed that Pope Francis already shows us his abandon to the Holy Spirit by doing something unusual – not choosing a name from a previous Pope. Thrilled by who he chose – one of the most radical and yet humble saints our Church has yet known, who embodied both the totality of warmth for humankind and an unwavering loyalty to the truth he understood of God and our world – in the face of much opposition from the cultural climate and his fellow Catholics. How our world needs the spirit of St Francis today: we need the spirit of humility, poverty and simplicity – that we may face our complex, nuanced, modern existence; we need the spirit of unity that calls all people brothers and sisters- that we may face all the very real tensions that threaten to create chasms between us; we need the spirit of poverty and harmony with the created world – that our relationship to material things, to natural resources, and to our physical bodies may be transformed in grace.
In choosing the name Francis, Pope Francis also gives us the spirit of another great saint, from St Francis of Assisi’s heritage – St. Francis Xavier – considered by many to be St Ignatius of Loyola’s right-hand man in the foundation of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits – our new Pope’s very community. St. Francis Xavier took his bearings from St Francis of Assisi, too, bearing his spirit of rebuilding and renewing the Church into a new age, and bearing that spirit to new shores. St Francis Xavier traversed much of the Eastern world, giving his life to “set all afire” with the love of God from Goa to India to Malaysia to Japan and finally to China, where he died in exile. Yet in all his travels what strikes me most is Xavier’s profound bond of love and loyalty to St Ignatius of Loyola and his fellow Jesuits, and in turn with all those whom he served and taught. It is also striking that he experienced initial resistance to the mission God was slowly revealing to him, yet in the end yielded his great warrior heart before God’s love and allowed it to transform him into an instrument of that very love.
I encourage you to get to know St Francis and St Francis Xavier, to get to know the spirit of their life and mission, and in doing so open your hearts to this first message from our new Pope Francis, and indeed from the Holy Spirit.
As God did with St Francis and St Francis Xavier, and our dear Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, He always gives us in Providence those servants who are an answer for the needs of our times. May we join Pope Francis’ patron saints in imploring grace for his pontificate, and for the Church and for our world! AMDG!
I’ve added links throughout the post to some books that helped me get to know the spirit of these two great saints! Feel free to post below if you have any book/movie/media suggestions!
One last link – if you haven’t seen it, check out Franco Zeffirelli’s classic flim about St Francis of Assisi and St Francis Xavier: Brother Sun, Sister Moon (Wikipedia page on the film here, video clip here). It’s very Zeffirelli (dramatic, long, slow, and in this case a bit over the top in a hippy way) so it might not appeal to everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed the film and the score.