COUNSELOR'S CORNER: Actions and symbols speak louder than words

By Fred Cavaiani
The Catholic Church has a new Pope, Pope Francis. In a day and a half he has probably inspired more people worldwide than in the last seven years of the previous Pope. And he has hardly said anything yet. His life as a Cardinal, living humbly in an apartment, taking the bus to work, not being caught up in the trappings of privilege and power have inspired many. His dedication to the poor, broken and downtrodden cuts across religious and cultural boundaries. Then his choice of a name, Francis, the founder of the Franciscan Order, who preached more by action than words and who lived simply with a dedication to the poor and lowly and possibly another Saint, Francis Xavier, a Jesuit, a missionary to India and China who also reached out to the poor and lowly by his care and compassion, symbolized a new and humble approach in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis is also a Jesuit, the most educated and progressive religious congregation in the Catholic Church. The Jesuits have been known throughout history as intelligent but most practical men who make spirituality relevant to every culture and nationality. Their determined progressive journey had gotten them in trouble with Popes and Kings over the years and as a result they were suppressed for many years in the 18th century Europe by Popes and Kings for being too practical and hopeful in making Christianity relevant to all. This is the background of Pope Francis.
Actions speak louder than words. Actions, more than words cause big institutions to make internal changes. These actions are personal actions embodied in personal symbolic and practical deeds. Theory and doctrine are not very motivating. Loving and practical actions are very motivating.
When Pope Francis first walked out onto the papal balcony he humbly asked people to pray for him. It is like a great rock star first asking his audience, “hey, could you pray for me so I can give a good concert.” This is an act of humility. Popes don’t give concerts but they are treated with more respect than any rock star. We call Popes, “Your holiness.” We surround Presidents with tremendous respect and admiration. Yet, it can be difficult to see clearly what a person is like before they are in office.
The excitement over this new Pope Francis in the Catholic Church is because people can see in concrete actions what this person had been like for many years, a humble, loving and compassionate man who has lived simply and humbly with dedicated compassion for the poor.
When a symbol inspires us, we become motivated to carry that inspiration into the world around us. This humble Pope inspires us to be more kind and gentle to others. And he has been in office for only six days. 
In this modern day of instant awareness and communication we are inspired by dedicated and consistent positive examples. A humble person is like a breath of freedom and freshness on our instant feedback communication waves. Humility and compassion for the ordinary person of life touches our hearts. Any symbolic representation of humility and compassion becomes a magnet that pulls out the best in us. We get inspired by actions more than by theory. St. Francis of Assisi is said to have told his followers, “Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words.” It is a simple way of stating that actions need to come before words. 
In the global community words can become hollow and empty. Today with our ability to telecast ideas to the whole world in a matter of minutes, actions can inspire and change a nation and even the world. These actions can be for good or for bad and when they are compassionate, kind and humble towards all, the whole world benefits.
There is another story of Francis of Assisi which is quite accurate. In his life time, the Crusades were very popular. Francis, before he changed his life, wanted to be a soldier. After being in prison for a year he realized that this was not the glamorous life it seemed. He reflected seriously on war and hatred of others. After his conversion to a simple and prayerful life, he returned to the War, now called the Crusades, with some of his followers. This time it was not to fight but to heal. He walked among the Crusaders with compassion and then walked across the desert battlefield to the Sultan of the Moors to talk of peace and compassion. They became friends of warmth and respect. Francis, the peacemaker, was not afraid to risk his life to show simple compassion in a humble and kind manner.
The power of a name can be very symbolic. The power of simple, humble and compassionate actions are very forceful. Maybe this is what we need to be reminded of in this 21st century.
Fred Cavaiani is a licensed marriage counselor and psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeast Michigan. His column in the Legal News runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at (248)362-3340. His e-mail address is: and his website is