Pope Francis’ Two Most Important Characteristics and Why They Challenge All of Us

In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, one of the Pharisees asks Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Jesus responds: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

Pretty simple, right? We’ve heard all of this from the youngest of ages, but the fact of the matter is that it is difficult for folks to do both of these well.

And, as humans, we sometimes tend to be good at one or the other.

Some of us find it easier to love/obey God.

We obey all of the commandments. We have a deep personal relationship with Him. But, we struggle to love others. We have difficulties showing the mercy that God has shown us.

The Pharisees struggled with loving their neighbor and Jesus had some choice words for them (and for those who fall into this category). A couple of samples both from the Seven Woes in Matthew 25 (which followed the Pharisees question listed above):

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men.”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

The Pharisees knew how to follow rules and look like they were obeying God. But, they failed to love others. (By the way, they also failed to go beyond the rules to truly love God as well).

Some of us find it easier to love others.

We are quick to lend a hand to our neighbor. We seek out opportunities to help the poor. We find it natural to give mercy and forgiveness to others. But, we struggle to obey all of God’s commandments. We have a hard time finding time for prayer. We don’t agree or follow the Church’s teachings on a particular doctrine or teaching.

The book of Revelation has some choice words for us as well:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).

What we find in Pope Francis is an amazing love of both God and neighbor.

He’s a man with unrelenting faithfulness to our Lord and the teachings of the Church and a resilient desire to bring God’s mercy to others on earth.

His example of being able to do both challenges all of us.

While actions are much stronger than words, I wanted to list some quotes to help encapsulate his example and witness to the need to love God and neighbor. I believe he has demonstrated many of these things through his actions during his papacy as well.

On love of God and being obedient to Jesus and the Church:

In regards to abortion and same-sex unions: “The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church.”

“We are not Christian ‘part-time,’ only at certain moments, in certain circumstances, in certain decisions; no one can be Christian in this way – we are Christian all the time! Totally!” – General Audience, May 15, 2013.

“What does obeying God mean? Does it mean that we must behave like slaves? No, whoever obeys God is free, he is not a slave! And how can this be? It seems like a contradiction… The word “obey” comes from Latin, and means to listen, to hear others. Obeying God is listening to God, having an open heart to follow the path that God points out to us. Obedience to God is listening to God and it sets us free.” —Homily, Domus Sanctae Marthae, April 11, 2013

On love of others (many of them appear to be addressed to the Pharisees of our day):

“I think we, too, are the people whom, on the one hand want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy.” –Homily, March 17, 2013

“The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.” – America Interview, September 30, 2013

“Jesus [says]: ‘Truly I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.’ Jesus puts things in their proper place. He tells us that our Father in Heaven is not a father who makes a pact with legalists. He is a Father of mercy.” —Homily, September 24, 2011

Reflection: Do have an easier time loving God or loving your neighbor? What can you do to strengthen your weakness this week?

Want to read more quotes by Pope Francis and reflections by Kevin? Buy Kevin’s best-selling book, Through the Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections.

Kevin Cotter
Kevin Cotter
Kevin Cotter is the Executive Director of Programming at Amazing Parish. He previously served with FOCUS for 11 years as a missionary and Sr. Director of Curriculum. Kevin holds a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Benedictine College and a master’s degree in Sacred Scripture from the Augustine Institute. He is the author of numerous FOCUS resources and Bible studies and several books, including Dating Detox with his wife Lisa and Called: Becoming a Disciple in a Post-Christian World. Kevin currently resides in Denver, CO with his wife, Lisa, and their children.

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