I love our Pope. I have been fascinated with his every move since his election. Beginning with his first action as Pope which he made before we even saw his face: the taking of the name, Francis.
As you know, he is the first Pope to take the name Francis. So, it’s an act that carries great significance. I recently saw a YouTube video where a Franciscan priest points out, “In taking the name Francis, the Pope wishes to evoke something in us. He wants us to think about ‘What does Francis mean?’”
One of the things St. Francis did, which you can read about in the book “The Life of St. Francis” written by that other great Franciscan, St. Bonaventure, involves his encounters with lepers.
One day (before he had entered into the “religious life” and formed his community of the brothers minor) he was riding a horse across the plain of Assisi and he saw this leper. And his first reaction was one of fear and horror. But then he remembered a resolution he had made to make himself completely obedient to the will of God. So he got down from his horse and went to meet the leper. And when the poor man stretched his out his hand to receive alms. Francis kissed his leprous hand and filled it with money.
On another occasion he lived among a community of lepers. He served them, washed their feet, bound up their wounds. And having done this he kissed the wounds of lepers.
St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most beloved Saints of all time, not because of who he was, but because of what he did. He once said, “Preach always. When necessary, use words.” His actions, such as kissing the lepers, spoke volumes more than his sermons. Because in his actions he reflected, not himself, but the love of Christ.
And this is what we see our Pope, our Francis, do today. We see him imitate Saint Francis' example. We see him imitate the love of Christ.
A few days ago, at his first Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square, Francis ordered the Popemobile to stop several times. Because parents were holding their babies up to him to be blessed. And in addition to blessing the babies, he had his attendants take the babies from their parents hands, and lift them up into the hands of the Pope and he kissed them. He did this over and over again. And a little girl was watching this with her little brother and she said to him, “When we have babies we’ll come back and he will kiss them.”
When the Popemobile drove alongside people with special needs, he again ordered it to stop. And he embraced them, and kissed them.
Earlier today, Francis celebrated this Holy Thursday Mass at a juvenile detention center. Days ago, when it was announced to the young people there that the Pope was coming to see them one of them exclaimed, “At last I’ll get to meet someone who says he is my father!” And after Francis washed the feet of twelve imprisoned minors, including two girls, he kissed their feet.
We are fascinated with Pope Francis, we are fascinated with Saint Francis, because ultimately, we are fascinated with Jesus Christ. And we long with our hearts deepest desire to be touched by Christ, to be embraced by Christ, to be kissed by Christ.
We are all infants, completely dependent upon our parent, our Heavenly Father. And we want to be taken up into His embrace and kissed by Him.
We are all people with special needs, who desperately need the attention, the love and the care of God. And we want to be seen by Him, to be recognized by Him and kissed by Him.
We are all prisoners, held bound by our sins and the sufferings this fallen world imposes upon us. And we want to set free and cleansed of our sins by Jesus Christ and to be kissed by Him.
What we celebrate tonight, is the fact, that God does this. Jesus Christ has entered into the prison of our world. He becomes an infant, he embraces lepers and others with special needs, and he washes the feet of his disciples.
And on this night, Jesus institutes two Sacraments, he gives us two gifts, by which he kisses us: The Eucharist, in which he hands over to us, his own Body and Blood, to be touched to our lips, so that we might receive a divine kiss from God Himself; and the priesthood, in which he shares his one priesthood with his disciples so that they in turn would share it with the men who would succeed them up to the present day so that we might receive this divine kiss from God Himself.
When we come to communion tonight, let us take up as a meditation how tremendously God loves us. That in this Eucharist, we enter into the most profound intimacy Heaven and Earth have ever known: the union of the Creator with His creation.
And as we turn to offer each other the sign of peace and as we go out into the world let us follow Christ’s command in the words he spoke to the Apostles after he washed their feet: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Let us love one another with the love Pope Francis and Saint Francis exemplify for us: the love of Jesus Christ.