Thought of the week
Next month it will be seven years ago that a retired Argentinian man found himself elected Bishop of Rome, the 265th successor of St Peter. As Pope Francis he has endeared himself to many. One of his objectives has been for us all to acknowledge the Church on the peripheries. To encourage us in this he has appointed cardinals from nations where the Catholic Church is numerically small, such as Burkhina Faso, Tonga and Sweden. He has gone to places such as the Central African Republic, the first pope to enter an active war zone and last week he travelled to Abu Dhabi to encourage there the vibrant migrant Church. In Rome too he has reached out to the homeless providing them with toilets, a laundrette and even, on one occasion, a dinner and private tour of the Vatican.
In his teachings, the Holy Father has stressed where we should look if it’s holiness we’re seeking. In an apostolic letter issued last year, and given the name ‘Gaudete et exultate’, he spoke of how we are all called to holiness. I like to contemplate, he wrote, the holiness present in the patience of God’s people; in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence.
My late mum knew about the saints in our midst. I can remember how she would often comment at home on the holiness of Mr Baxter, our next-door neighbour. His wife was the verger of the local Anglican Church but he never accompanied her there and yet as my Mum observed he did more good for his fellow men and women than anyone else in our street. His DIY skills had saved many a house from domestic disaster, his fruit and veg was widely distributed and his looking out for the elderly always ensured that when they got sick he was ready to help with whatever needed doing. As we listen this Sunday to the start of the Sermon on the Mount as told by St Luke, we may notice that Jesus gives it to three groups: the Twelve, a large gathering of his disciples and a ‘great crowd from all parts.’ This detail tells us that from the start of his ministry Jesus did not forget those from the peripheries. He encouraged them to know that they reflect God’s presence just as much as those he had called to discipleship. While it’s great to see Pope Francis do the same in our own day we must ensure he’s not alone in acknowledging the holiness in our midst. Let’s fix our eyes on those who reveal it and be inspired, for in them, ‘is the kingdom of God.’