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Today is the 50th anniversary of Pope Francis’ ordination to the priesthood. Pope Francis’ vocation to the priesthood and its significance for him is expressed in the motto of his papal coat of arms, “miserando atque eligendo”. The motto is explained by the Vatican in this way:

The motto of Pope Francis is taken from a passage from the venerable Bede, Homily 21 (CCL 122, 149-151), on the Feast of Matthew, which reads: Vidit ergo Jesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, ‘Sequere me’. [Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, ‘follow me’.]

This homily is a tribute to Divine Mercy and is read during the Liturgy of the Hours on the Feast of St Matthew. This has particular significance in the life and spirituality of the Pope. In fact, on the Feast of St Matthew in 1953, the young Jorge Bergoglio experienced, at the age of 17, in a very special way, the loving presence of God in his life. Following confession, he felt his heart touched and he sensed the descent of the Mercy of God, who with a gaze of tender love, called him to religious life, following the example of St Ignatius of Loyola.

Once he had been ordained a Bishop, H.E. Mons. Bergoglio, in memory of this event that signified the beginning of his total consecration to God in His Church, chose, as his motto and as his programme of life, the words of St Bede: miserando atque eligendo. This he has chosen to keep in his papal coat of arms.

The Feast of St. Matthew and Jesus’ call to the tax collector to follow him obviously occupies, therefore, a special place in Pope Francis’ approach to his priestly and papal ministry. Pope Francis reflects on this gaze of Jesus to the tax collector in a homily delivered in Cuba on the Feast of St. Matthew:

Pope Francis liked to reflect on this painting of the call of Matthew by Carvaggio

After the Lord looked upon him with mercy, he said to Matthew: “Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed him. After the look, a word. After love, the mission. Matthew is no longer the same; he is changed inside. The encounter with Jesus and his loving mercy transformed him. His table, his money, his exclusion, were all left behind. Before, he had sat waiting to collect his taxes, to take from others; now, with Jesus he must get up and give, give himself to others. Jesus looks at him and Matthew encounters the joy of service. For Matthew and for all who have felt the gaze of Jesus, other people are no longer to be “lived off”, used and abused. The gaze of Jesus gives rise to missionary activity, service, self-giving. Other people are those whom Jesus serves. His love heals our short-sightedness and pushes us to look beyond, not to be satisfied with appearances or with what is politically correct.

This encounter with Jesus’ mercy has obviously been at the forefront of Pope Francis’ ministry as pope. May he continue to guide the Church under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the gaze of Jesus’ mercy!

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