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Pope Francis’ great lesson in humility and wisdom

One year ago, I was installed as the eighth bishop of Denver.  It still feels like yesterday to me.  And when I was ordained a priest in 1976, I never imagined that one day I would become the archbishop of Denver.  I am deeply grateful for the welcome and support I’ve received during my year as Denver’s archbishop from the clergy and laity.

I am particularly grateful to my predecessor, Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.  Most people know that Archbishop Chaput is a great man—a visionary leader in the Church in the United States.  He is also a friend, and has been a mentor and teacher for me.

It is a rare privilege to follow after a great man.  I am blessed in Denver to follow the term of Archbishop Chaput.  And our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is blessed to follow the term of Pope Benedict XVI—a visionary leader, a great man, a leader and a teacher.

Because we have the privilege in common, I’ve watched to see how Pope Francis would relate to the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.  Two weeks ago, with the release of his first encyclical, “Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis spoke clearly about his relationship with his predecessor.

When introducing the encyclical, Pope Francis noted that Pope Benedict himself had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith. “For this I am deeply grateful to him, and as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own.”

Pope Francis wanted the world to know that “Lumen Fidei”began in the heart and mind of Pope Benedict XVI.  This was an act of deep and admirable humility.

In the modern world, we’re often encouraged to discount everything that is old.  We pursue the newest media, the newest cars, the newest technologies.  We are taught that ours is an age of unprecedented wisdom and potential, and we believe this, uncritically.  Too often, we forget the wisdom that comes from knowing our past.

Pope Francis’ encyclical rejects this modern paradigm.  From its outset, the Holy Father gives credit to the wisdom of his predecessors—to the traditions and ideas which came before him.  Pope Francis denied his ego, in order to remain connected to the wisdom of his predecessors.

The Holy Father’s decision was instructive.  Our call, as Catholics, is to draw from the sacred traditions of the Church, and the ancient deposit of our faith.  A deposit that can never change if we are to remain faithful to Jesus Christ—one that is best summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  With new methods, new enthusiasm, and new commitment, we present a truth which is timeless: that God is love, and that love is boundless self-sacrifice.  This truth can be found only in the person of Jesus Christ.

Too often, even in the Church, we reject what has come before us.  We become infatuated with the novel, because it is new.  Too often we lack the humility to admit the wisdom and truth of the past.  Pope Francis has demonstrated real humility.  I pray we will do the same.

“It is through the apostolic tradition,” said Pope Francis in “Lumen Fidei,” “preserved in the Church with the assistance of the Holy Spirit that we enjoy a living contact” with the memory of Jesus Christ and his revelation.  May we have the humility to seek out tradition, to honor it and to carry it forward with courage, helping others to encounter the truth of Jesus Christ, for he alone can bring us happiness and peace.  For he is the Truth who will set us free (John 8:32; John 14: 6).

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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