As we approached the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, I knew that I wanted to offer some kind of reflection on him and the phenomena that the first year of his pontificate has been. I was not interested in offering some kind of analysis of his impact or a presenting a survey of the various ways in which his words or actions have been received. In my wonderment of what was intriguing me to say anything, I found myself focusing my thoughts on the man himself and what this year has been for him personally.
When I was growing up I liked games shows with celebrity contestants as well as talk shows because I was intrigued by the fact that these stars were real people and I wanted to know what they were really like. In Pope Francis, I think we have had the opportunity to know "the real man." In both his prepared remarks and his unscripted comments, the Holy Father has shown an appreciation for the every challenges of discipleship. He balances his public appearance with a public glimpse of normal routine life. And because of all that, I found myself thinking back to a year ago and wondering, what was he thinking as it was clear his life was about to change. What was he thinking as the Dean of the College of Cardinals asked him, "Do you accept?" I can't know what he was thinking but I do know what he saw during those moments, Michelangelo's great fresco, "The Last Judgement."
I have been blessed to visit the Sistine Chapel twice in my life. My first experience was like many tourists, not knowing where to look while you are quickly ushered through. The second time I went, I made a choice that I would spend my brief time focused on the this scene of The Last Judgement. I could not help but be overwhelmed by it. It was not a static two dimensional painting that I saw, but an image of great movement; people being swept up to heaven with the Lord's right hand and others sliding into the netherworld after confronting the forearm of his left. "Which direction am I headed?" I asked myself. In one united gesture, the resurrected and glorified body of Christ says, "Come inherit the Kingdom, to you did it for me." and "Depart to you who did not do it for me." With this image before him, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio said, "Accepto" in acceptance of his election as Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. I believe it is with this image in mind, that Pope Francis has lived this first year of his pontificate. He has asked us in his preaching, teaching and action if we are willing to accept the standards of this Last Judgement.
"Who am I to judge?" is possibly the most quoted statement of the Holy Father thus far. Many have used it to say that the Holy Father felt that he, and therefore no one else, had the right to make a definitive statement about sin. His answer was not, that there is no judgement, but that he is not the judge. It is the Son of Man, Matthew's gospel says, that will come in glory and judge on the standard of what we have done for Him. I don't know what he was thinking when he accepted the call to serve as Pope but I do know that in his year as our Holy Father, Pope Francis has sought to bring us to a favorable final judgement by directing us to the least among us.
"Do you accept?" is the question of discipleship. Do you accept the mandate to do for me, who did it for you? Do you accept the challenge to die to self service and selfishness. Do you accept the admonition to do for the least not because you recognize Christ in them but more importantly when you can't see the good in them? Do you accept the cross of laying down your life for the will of the Father and the care of His people?
I can only wonder how hard it was for Pope Francis to say "Yes," but I know for certain how hard it is for me to say, "Yes," to this standard of judgement. I truly believe that our world today has made it harder and harder to say, "Yes," to this standard of judgement. The threat of terror and a failing economy force us to worry more about ourselves. A plague of objectification afflicts us due to the proliferation of pornography. Even our technology has developed cameras for our phones that make it easier to take pictures of ourselves and therefore be less focused on remembering our moments with others.
I think Pope Francis understands how hard it is for us to accept the standard of the Last Judgement. A year ago I prayed that the new Pope would make me a better person and a priest. In coming to "know" him, I know that he has accepted the mission to help me understand the measure by which I will be judged and has challenged me to say, "I accept."