This afternoon, I was meeting with a parishioner when my computer began to chirp and squawk and cheer. Much disturbed, I went to the monitor, to find that it was the website of theWashington Post, playing some kind of video announcement about the election of a new pope. Such is the way news of the holy travels in the early 21st century.
In the old days, I guess, it would have been carrier pigeons, or messengers on horseback. People would, perhaps, have heard of the selection of a new pope even before the news reached them that the old one had entered immortality. But all the technologies in the world cannot change the heart of the work: to make known the love of God to as many people as possible, preaching forgiveness, showing kindness, relieving misery, giving reason for hope. The great popes, the ones who are still revered, did just that: they granted order in times of chaos, fed the hungry, tended the sick, opened the coffers of the papacy to provide for the needs of Christ’s poor. They were icons of grace in a dark time.
In that way, their work is no different from ours, we ordinary people who seek to love and to follow Jesus. Whatever the size of the stage we walk upon, Christ’s work remains the same. We do not all have the same opportunities that Francis will have, but each of us has the opportunities God gives us, whether that be feeding a thousand people a month or comforting one crying child. In God’s eyes, all work of love is blessed.
And so, for Francis and for us, I offer these words from Psalm 5:I, through the greatness of your love — have access to your house. I bow down before your holy temple, filled with awe. Lead me, Lord, in your justice, because of those who lie in wait; make clear your way before me.
I love those words. They speak of the grace of God’s gift to each one of us, that it is only through God’s great love that any of us have access to God’s house, which is not only church or temple, but this world God has created. They speak of the reverence with which we should hold the place of God and the people of God. They warn us that the terms of continued admission are that we live justice, rendering to each what each is due: God’s love, worked through us and in us each day.
And they remind us that there will be people who do not wish this to happen. There will even be that within us that rises up in rebellion against our God. But it is God alone who prepares for us a straight way, God who is always on our side. And so we work without fear, knowing that God works good in each one of us, every way God can.
Those you protect shall be glad and ring out their joy. You shelter them; in you they rejoice, those who love your name. It is you who bless the just, O Lord: you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
That white smoke is not just for Francis. It reminds us that each of us is chosen, elect, beloved in the eyes of God. When it is your turn to step onto the balcony, to hear the cries of need, the broken pleading for your healing, know that God has placed you there, and will give you all that you need.