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In my life as a parent, I quickly learned that the cliché that “actions speak louder than words” isn’t really a cliché. There’s real truth in that often repeated phrase.
My boys learn faster the goodness of helping out around the house when I do this myself than if I tried to explain it to them with words alone. They are led to prayer more effectively if they see me on my knees than by merely giving them a catechetical instruction on this essential practice of our faith.
Even though I learned this reality quickly, it’s still something I struggle to put into practice. Maybe it’s an occupational hazard of being a writer. More than likely, it’s just good, old-fashioned laziness on my part.
Thankfully, parents like me have been given a good example of what it means to teach through action by our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires.
In the first days of his papacy, he has taught his spiritual children around the world powerful lessons through his gestures and actions.
The first of those actions was the choice of his papal name, which he selected in honor of St. Francis of Assisi—the first pope ever to do so.
Francis is arguably the Church’s most popular saint. But his appeal reaches far beyond Catholicism. That is because the 13th century Italian’s example of joy-filled poverty, love of God’s creation and care for those on the margins of society are so clearly holy and attractive to the human heart.
But Pope Francis didn’t choose that name simply because it is popular. He chose it because he has lived a simple life and shown great care for the poor for decades. Perhaps in choosing this name, he hoped to teach us to place a priority on simplicity and showing charity to those in need.
Then he came out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican overlooking St. Peter’s Square where some 200,000 people were waiting to see the new pope for the first time. Traditionally, a new pope gives a blessing to the crowd. But before giving his blessing, Pope Francis first asked for the prayers of those in the crowd.
And as he humbly bowed down to receive those prayers, the crowd in the square recognized the power of that simple gesture. Moments earlier, they had been screaming as Pope Francis came out onto the balcony. Now complete silence fell over the square.
What a great way to start a ministry so large in its scope—to have hundreds of thousands of people praying for you at the same moment. And what a powerful way to teach humility and the need to place a priority on prayer.
On the day of his inaugural Mass on March 19, Pope Francis preached an eloquent homily. But he was as much a teacher before the Mass when he was riding through St. Peter’s Square on his popemobile and had the driver stop.
He got off, walked to a nearby barricade and embraced a severely disabled man. The tenderness shown to this man by Pope Francis is a powerful lesson to us all that every person has an innate dignity and is created in the image and likeness of God.
Pope Francis has 1.3 billion spiritual children around the world. As he begins his ministry leading the universal Church, I pray that each of us who are spiritual children of our Holy Father will take to heart the lessons he is giving us through his loving actions. †