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SINCE the beginning of his papacy a week ago, it has been clear that Francis I is going to be a different sort of pope.
He is not doing new things or inventing new doctrines. Rather, he sees it as his mission to remind Christians of the oldest, most fundamental things.
The Pope began his priesthood working among the poor of Argentina and never lost touch with his flock. He used his inaugural Mass on Tuesday not to talk about himself and his visions and plans for the church, but rather to talk about St. Joseph, whose feast day it was.
St. Joseph — the worker, the foster father, the patron of fidelity and steadfastness — is often the forgotten saint. We know little about him. He is not much talked about.
It is possible to enter a Catholic church and not see his image. It is possible to enter a church that bears his name and see no sainted glass window depicting him. That would probably be OK with St. Joseph.
The modern mentality might see St. Joseph, if he were considered at all, as Mr. Nice Guy. But Pope Francis spoke of him as the ultimate protector — a man able to clear away his own ego and wants so that he could listen to God. He heard God say one simple thing: Serve.
The only point of his papacy — indeed, of papal power — is to serve, the Pope said. He urged us to do the same: Serve the poor, protect our families, and cherish and protect God’s creation.
He called St. Joseph a “realist” who knew that “lowly, concrete, and faithful service,” is how to walk the walk. “We must not be afraid of goodness or tenderness,” the Pope said. Embrace these qualities, he added, and you will be a “shaft of light” shining through the darkness of our age, when “hatred, envy, and pride defile the human race.”
Compassion, devotion, and humility are the examples of St. Joseph, and the mark of true Christian realism. So the simpler rituals and dress, the small acts of humility, in the first week of the papacy of Francis I are about going back to basics — back to the roots.
Less doctrinal debate, more time in soup kitchens and other practical acts of love. This Pope’s election might help rebuild a broken church.