March 21, 2013

Some Thoughts on Pope Francis

So: I'm still really excited about the Pope. I just haven't had time to share it here.

The feeling I had all evening the night he was elected, and still thankfully have (though with less intensity) is quite extraordinary.  Everything seems so possible -- the air tingled with anticipation and excitement and possibility -- but also surprise! I don't know what the Church will look like under Pope Francis, but I cannot wait to see.

Mostly, I am simply overwhelmed by the graciousness of God. There are many bad men in the world, and, sadly, in the Church. But these last 200 years, times of great great struggles for the Church, we have been blessed with wise and saintly leaders. Not perfect, but good.  I was prepared to love Benedict -- I had already loved and studied Ratzinger. But Bergoglio, even if I had adopted him, was mostly unknown to me. Isn't it exciting to see that someone who none of us knew well, if we knew anything turns out to be such a good man and loving Father to us all?

I was (am!) completely captivated by him, and excited to know him better (failings as well as virtues; he is human, after all!) and see how he guides us. Everything about him is shocking, the way a splash of cold water on your face is shocking in the morning:
+ He began his papacy with a prayer -- that is, his public prayer. (I assume everyone begins their papacy with a prayer, if only "Dear Lord, why me?")
+ He chose a new name -- Francis -- lover of the poor, lover of creation, who was commanded by Christ to "rebuild my church!"
+ His astounding humility. That first scene on the balcony he won over our hearts with his awkward wave, and his humble prayer, but now that the shock has worn off a bit, we see a man who is so comfortable in the way he lives the Cross.
+ He stops the Pope Mobile to bless a disabled man; He kindly blesses an whole crowd of non-believers, and they accept it. He has the love and respect of leaders of many other Churches.
+ He is washing the feet of juvenile delinquents which is bold and ... terrifying considering the Stubenville case.

And his first homily! What a challenge to us:
This Gospel continues with a special situation. The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.” He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.” When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.
I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage—the courage—to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.

This whole week (has it been a week already!) I have been thinking about a conversation I had with a colleague the year after John Paul II died. He had been on the fence for a long time: loved JPII, prayed the Divine Office, often went to Mass and observed all the feasts. But he also -- for whatever reason -- wouldn't cross the Tiber.
He said "Don't you think anyone who was going to become Catholic would have done so during the papacy of John Paul II?"
I responded: "No. That's absurd. And not at all how the Holy Spirit works." 
Or, indeed, how the Papacy works. Different popes, like different priests and different friends, speak to us in unique ways and challenge us by their very being.  This colleague was won over by Benedict in the end, and became Catholic a few years later.  It wasn't only Benedict, of course. By "won over" I mean, that reading Benedict's writings, and seeing his pastoral care for us has some role in his ultimate conversion.

So too, Pope Francis offers a direct challenge in his person. He has challenged me to pay closer attention to the Cross, to deeply consider what it means to be poor and to love the poor; he has given me a glimpse of what it means to be truly humble, and made that desirable. And I frankly cannot wait to see what else is in store for us!

O God, who in your providential design
willed that your Church be built
upon blessed Peter, whom you set over the other apostles,
look with favor, we pray, on Francis, our Pope,
and grant that he, whom you have made Peter’s successor,
may be for your people a visible source and foundation
of unity in faith and of communion.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.

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