Triptych in SJV lobbyAs you well know, just two weeks prior to Christmas Day, Pope Francis was named Time magazine’s 2013 Person of the Year.

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pontiff, who in his brief nine months in office has won the hearts and headlines of our world through his humility and healing touch.

Francis has proven he is a pope of the people. In less than a year, our Pope has shaken up many people’s interpretation of the papacy, espousing a more inclusive view of religion and often showing his humility through so many personal examples. He already, in an extraordinary way, stands out as an iconic figure, someone who has changed the tone, the perception and the focus of one of the world’s largest institutions, our beloved Catholic Church.

Why the attraction really? He is not a popular entertainer, rock star, nor a sports celebrity. He’s not a world-acclaimed figure known for his brilliance in professional, big-business management or political ambition. Rather, as stated in an interview given early in his papacy, he simply knows himself to be a sinner – a sinner who is deeply aware he has been offered salvation through the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

I believe the world’s attraction to Pope Francis comes by way of his humility and example of servant leadership. He offers Catholics and non-Catholics alike a deep sense of hope – the hope of belonging to God, as he has shown by his actions as an ambassador of goodwill, as he reaches out to the multitudes regardless of who they are. In doing so, our Pope is affirming humanity’s true identity as belonging intimately to a loving, merciful, caring God.

Isn’t this the message of the season we now celebrate – completely encapsulated in one given moment in the history of our world – the Christmas story in Bethlehem? No pompous arrival of a stately king child, but arrival of complete humility. A baby, who in fact and deed, would continue to grow in order to change the world by the simple language of love as evidenced in his words and actions – Our Lord, the ambassador and Son of God, offering the goodwill of His Father in which the entire world is invited to participate.

Perhaps there’s a certain hope being renewed in our world today, as seen in the Spirit-guided actions of our Pope. The world as we know it has been darkened by sin, but the power of Christ’s transforming grace is again shedding new light and making visible a glimmer of that original celebration of hope, as it began so fresh that first Christmas Day.

As our Advent readings from Isaiah have prophesied, “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him… Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted” (Is 11:1-3).

Perhaps this passage, as intended for Jesus who was to come, has once again come alive today in His disciple Francis.  This action has been made visible by the many photos of our Pontiff as he reaches out to the world. Current events of his life have now been made icons of hope as he, for example, welcomes unabashedly the hug of the young boy during his papal audience, or as seen in his embrace of the man with the dreadfully scarred face.

Or perhaps our hearts have been deeply touched by the knowledge that our Pope often leaves the walled city of the Vatican late at night in order to serve the needs of the poor in the city of Rome. By doing such actions, our Person of the Year gives us an opportunity to reinvest ourselves in hope, as we are reassured by his example of God’s love for humanity sprouting anew by the Spirit of Jesus Christ moving through him.

However distant we may feel from the Christmas message, regardless of how separated at times we feel from the knowledge of God’s love for us, there is a new spirit flowing throughout our world, a new blossom budding from a stump we might have once thought dead. Its message serves to bring us new hope.

My hope and prayer for each of us is that we may be transformed by the Christmas message of God’s love in a powerful way as we reflect on the witness of Our Lord’s redeeming actions in our world, both in history as well as today. And may this Christmas Season find each of our souls proclaiming anew the greatness of God, as our spirits, as did Mary’s, rejoice in God our Savior, for He has indeed looked with favor on his lowly servants.

Merry Christmas!

Bishop Peter F. Christensen

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others.
It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see
misery and want. It has the ears to hear  the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”  ~ Words from our Diocese of Superior patron saint – Saint Augustine