Pope Francis appears a simple man. His ordinariness and humanity has impressed people. While it will be difficult to avoid becoming a well known personality it looks as though he is wanting to avoid becoming a celebrity, wanting people to focus on his message rather than on himself. This might be difficult because human nature seems to want to put people on pedestals, pinning hopes and unrealistic expectations on them and sometimes then gloating when they fail. But the only place to go on a pedestal is to fall off.
Within a religious context this is to turn someone into an idol and religious people have a tendency to do this with significant figures and with religion itself. They then take on an absolute value which obscures their message and even distorts the truth. The religious tradition can then become more important than its founder and founding message.
The founders of the major world religions point beyond themselves to an ultimate reality which most of them call God. Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha, told his followers not to accept his words unthinkingly but to work out their own salvation, judging for themselves whether the path he laid down would bring them enlightenment or not. It was the path to enlightenment that was important, not the person of the Buddha. Similarly Mohammed is not the focus of Islam. it is the path of God revealed to Mohammed and set down in the Qur'an. This is the path of peace which makes God the only absolute in life. Jesus too we are told is the Way but this is often interpreted as the end. Jesus is the Way who shows the path to peace, reconciliation, forgiveness - a path that demands dying to self and living for others.
Christmas celebrates the birthday of Jesus. It is a time for family celebrations and the giving of gifts. but to forget the message of Jesus is to make Christmas into an idol, to render its celebration empty. Perhaps its true message can be summed up in a christmas card I got this week. The last two lines are what it is all about.
O come all your faithful!
Joyfully acknowledge God among us,
caring for us and inspiring us
to care for each other
in the cosmic web of life!