I followed the election of our new pope just like I followed the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI – on television.
The days surrounding the conclave were filled with anticipation. We Catholics were on the edge of our seats, but so was everyone else. It was a new sort of March Madness. My colleague asked if I had filled out my conclave brackets; he was picking Brazil to go all the way. One newspaper even listed the “Sweet Sistine.”
There were pre-election press conferences. At one such conference, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan quipped he hoped the conclave didn’t run too long because he hadn’t packed enough socks. When the conclave got underway, groups in Vatican Square cheered as their favorite cardinal took the oath of secrecy on the Jumbotron. I don’t recall if they did the wave.
People the world over knew the drill: black means have-to-wait, white means cel-e-brate. Even The Seagull that sat on the Sistine chapel smokestack had a Twitter account and began live tweeting. He quickly accrued thousands of followers.
When he flew away for good, one priest on Twitter inquired: “Seagull finally gone … Chimney Vacante?”
Then, the words everyone was waiting for: “Habemus Papam.”
Teresa and the kids briefly visited me at work to celebrate. We wanted to savor every moment.
“Does anyone know why he picked the name, Francis?” I asked.
“He named himself after our cat?”
Well, savor almost every moment. That night, Teresa took Grace to church for adoration and the Stations of the Cross. I stayed home with Abigail and the two younger boys. We prayed the rosary using an app on the iPad.
Then, after the glorious spectacle of the conclave subsided, our Holy Father celebrated his inaugural Mass on the feast day of St. Joseph, March 19. Pope Francis noted it was a “significant coincidence” or as he said in Italian, “è una coincidenza molto ricca di significato.”
In a world being rocked daily by violence, war and abuse, in a country such as ours, where one out of every three children is being raised apart from his or her biological dad, God gave us a new Holy Father. And in so doing, he reminded us that we are called, like St. Joseph, to be protectors of our families, our communities, and ourselves. Pope Francis reflected on many of St. Joseph’s virtues.
He was faithful. He was there throughout his betrothal to Mary and beyond. He journeyed with Mary to Bethlehem for the census, and was there for the birth of our Lord. He remained a devoted spouse and foster father. He taught Jesus in his workshop. What a great reminder for us fathers that as protectors of our wives and children, we are to be present.
He was attentive to God and God’s plan for his life. Fathers need to pray. We have lots of rituals every day that enable us to maintain relationships with people. We check email, we make phone calls and we go out for dinner. Likewise, Pope Francis reminds us that we need to pray every day to strengthen our relationship with our Creator when he says, “Let us protect Christ in our lives so that we can protect others.”
And what if we fail in this responsibility? What if we don’t protect the gifts God has given us? “The way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened.”
He continues, “Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives. Being protector, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts.”
Here he adds an important reminder: “Caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness.”
These are convicting words. These are difficult words. But they are the words of a father. Truly: Habemus Papam.
As a father myself, I began to ask, do I truly show concern for others, their feelings? Do I say, “I’m sorry” as readily as I should; do I show enough compassion to those around me?
This is where we have a chance to distance ourselves from the casual Twitter followers of the Sistine Chapel seagull. We can heed the words of our Holy Father, grow closer to Christ in prayer, and, by the grace of God and the intercession of the saints, grow more holy.
Happy Easter! And don’t forget to pray for Pope Francis.
(Joe is married to Teresa. They have four children and run a joyful home in Plymouth. Opportunities for heavenly-inspired humor abound. Joe, a librarian, and Teresa, a physical therapist, are parishioners at St. John the Baptist, Plymouth.)