Francis the Guardian, the New Bedford Standard Times, March 20, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Conclave Series for the New Bedford Standard Times
March 20, 2013

There are two times a new Pope ordinarily defines the path and priorities of his papacy.

The most notable one is when he pens his first encyclical letter, normally several months after his election. In it he writes extensively on one or more issues he believes the whole Church needs to give primacy.

The other occasion is during the homily at the Mass inaugurating his pontificate. Though much shorter than an encyclical and the same amount of study, prayer and consultation buttressing it, it nevertheless normally provides the “title track” for what will become the papal “album.”

Yesterday, enveloped by national and religious leaders from around the world and 200,000 buoyant believers on a fittingly gorgeous day, Pope Francis presented us his papal Magna Carta. He powerfully described how he understands the task God has given him and invited others — and not just Catholics — to unite with him in this mission.

He began by focusing on St. Joseph — he foster-father of Jesus and husband of the Virgin Mary — whom Catholics celebrate on March 19. One of St. Joseph’s traditional titles is “guardian of the Redeemer,” and Pope Francis delineated how this humble, discreetjust and faithful man protected not only Jesus and his Mother but continues spiritually to protect the whole Church.

“In him,” the Pope affirmed, “we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation,” which is to center one’s existence on God. St. Joseph, the Pope declared, shows us how to guard our relationship with God-with-us in every age in the midst of the various “Herods” who consider menacing even the humble appearance of a God wrapped in the flesh and swaddling clothes of a little baby.

Once we learn how, with Joseph, how to prioritize and protect our relationship with God, then we grasp how to protect, defend and promote everything and everyone else related to God.

We learn how to protect the great gift of the created world and each of God’s creatures.

We also capture how to guard what Pope Benedict once beautifully called the “human ecology,” the human beings who are the culmination of creation and whose lives are threatened by both environmental and moral pollutants.

Each of us —world leaders, religious rulers, parents and friends — has a calling to be our each other’s keeper, the new pope declared. This means “showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about.”

For us to guard others, however, the Pope insisted that we must first “keep watch over ourselves,” so that our thoughts, emotions, intentions and actions actually build others up rather than tear them down. He urged us regularly to examine our motivations to ensure that our relationships are marked by goodness and tenderness rather than self-aggrandizement. With St. Joseph, we need to center those relationships on God.

That’s why Pope Francis asked all Catholics yesterday to pray for him so that he may keep guard of himself and, in the exercise of his papal authority, may authentically learn like St. Joseph to serve others with tender concern.

His aspiration — and the hope of every pope — is to imitate St. Joseph and the foster-son he raised in laying down his life for others. “Only those who serve with love,” he stressed, “are able to protect!”

But that’s a tall order, and one that pertains not just to those dressed in white cassocks. This service of loving protection that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out —of our thoughts, intentions and actions; of each person especially the poorest, weakest and least important; and of all creation — is one, he said,  “to which all of us are called.”

That’s a task for which St. Francis reawakened the whole world in the 13th century. And that’s the mission that the new pope wants to revive in our own day.