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Pope Francis, the Passionate

Just under 2,000 years ago, almost three quarters of a million sunsets ago, a Jew named Jesus started the Passover Seder by washing the feet of his followers in an act of humility and passion.  To mark this event, the newly installed Pope Francis repeated the ceremony with a group of young prisoners at a juvenile detention center in Rome – two of whom were women.  It may seem like a stunning sign of contrition from this new Pope, except that this is what we have come to expect from the Argentine Jesuit who has insisted that priests should be “shepherds who have the smell of their sheep.”

Who is Francis?  Why does it matter?  As we learned from the last two Popes, these two questions are closely intertwined because the office is made by the man who holds it – for better or worse.  As we head into Easter it is good to have a closer understanding of this man and why he might make a big difference in faith – both personally and for the institution we know as the Catholic Church.

FrancisConsistent with the Church, I should open with confession.  I am not Catholic, but on my Dad’s side there has been a confusing mix of Catholicism and Protestantism that has left my family divided.  St Paul, my home, is a city that until recently was defined by Catholicism in many ways.  It’s more than churches and parochial schools, too – Catholic Charities is a $40M per year organization that distributes almost a million pounds of food locally through their foodshelves and provides shelter for 73,000 otherwise homeless nights.  As a city, we are “practicing Catholics” in that the good works of the church defines us.

So it matters who the Pope is even to a Prod like me, and I have to tell you that I really like Francis.  Not only because he is from the Americas, but because his symbolic humility is a standard that I hope the whole world can come to understand and practice.  He rode public transit to work as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and recently called up his newspaper delivery person from Rome to explain, regretfully, that he has a new job and won’t need the paper anymore.  The foot washing was more than a ceremony, it is a way of life.  It is a calling that Francis is going to be asking us all to join.

This is important because no matter what any of us think of the Church it is an important leader in a world that desperately needs leadership.  Saint John Paul was probably the most important force opposing Communism, and also was the key to bringing down the Pinochet regime in Chile.  Given the boldness and clarity that Francis has shown in a few weeks we can expect nothing less from him – except his enemy is less likely to be oppression and more likely to be inequality and poverty.

There are, of course, reasonable skeptics.  The Church has been rightly hammered for its cover-ups of horrible abuses in its own ranks.  Women are still systematically excluded from important leadership roles of any kind.  Here in St Paul, the good will of the Church was sorely tested by its blind support of the anti-marriage equity amendment in the last election.  You have to wonder how many neighborhood parishes or schools could have been kept open by the more than $500k they blew in a pathetic and wasted effort, too.  Pope Benedict XVI was, at best, a waste of time and space.

The Church has to get itself in order and find a way to make a clean start.  The best way to do that, aside from a full confession (which I hope is coming soon) is to return to the roots of what it means to be a disciple of Christ, the man who ministered not in gilded churches full of icons and soaring stained glass but among the hookers and drunks and castaways of society.  They were the people that needed him, and Pope Francis understands that.  It is a good start.

What am I hoping for from him?  This Easter, I am asking for nothing less than a resurrection, a new passion of the Holy Spirit that casts aside sin and even death itself.  I’d like to see a new calling of faith and humility, defined by doing good where it is needed most here on this earth.  If that sounds like a lot to ask, it’s worth remembering that this is what Easter is actually all about in the first place.  A repeat every 2,000 years isn’t really that much.

But it is important, even to those of us who are not members of the Catholic Church.  Francis has set off to a great start, but the world needs so much more.   I think he knows that, too.  Let’s expect great passion and be a part of it.

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20 thoughts on “Pope Francis, the Passionate

  1. Until I see the Vatican Bank open up and start feed the world it’s all just theater. But I am willing to be convinced. Do what you say and not just put on a show and I will be there with you Pope Francis.

    • I have no problem with setting a high bar, especially for “recovering Catholics”. I think the Church should be set to a high standard. But what I’ll tell you is that I like what I have seen so far – and that even if all he provides is some solid leadership it’s something the world sorely needs.

    • I have not heard that. I have heard questions about his apparent neutrality during the “Dirty War”, but that has been countered / forgiven by many of those who suffered so I consider that a non-issue. No matter what, a full “truth and reconciliation” is in order for the whole Church on the issue of bad priests, and I know that something is going to come from this new Pope. I’m waiting to see what it is before I tell you how I feel. The Church does have a lot to overcome.

  2. Hmmm I always thought the Church of Rome was fundamentally evil–teaching of guilt and shame and perverted notions of human sexuality to vulnerable young people … not even to mention so many priests buggering the alter boys with the connivance of the hierarchy.

    But then I went to Central America in the mind-80s and met nuns and priests who risked their lives working to help poor people, and realized that the Church, like most human institutions, has both good and evil in it.

    Bergoglio has a lot on his plate, aside from being the first Jesuit pope. He seems to be off to a good start, at least in terms of cultivating an image. We shall see…….

    • Alan, you and I have the same thoughts on so many things it’s chilling. I completely agree on how Catholicism is practiced in daily life here in the developed world, but I have also see the good works done and I can’t imagine a world without someone doing that. It is a lot to depend on but it is important. Yes, I want a Pope that comes from that side of things and leads the Church more in that direction!
      I think we both have the same take on where we are now – hopeful that we got it right this time. We’ll just have to see, won’t we?

  3. I am as skeptical as the next person but this is a great start and he has a beautiful soul. Maybe it is a lot to ask that the pope be like a living saint but that is the example I would want. Francis may just be that man and I hope so!
    Great blog as always. I know other people like all the economic stuff but I like it when you write on social issues. You have a lot to say & say it well!

    • Thank you for your kind words. A living saint is a lot to ask, but what’s important is to try – and set an example for everyone. I’m seeing that now and I love it!
      I will keep mixing up the social stuff and the economics – I believe they very much go together. An economy is nothing more than the sum total of what we literally “value”, after all – and it starts with values.

  4. The Catholic Church has been able to renew itself many times in the last 2000 years so what you are calling for is just part of the history. The abuse of little boys by priests is worse in a lot of ways than the torture and war but they got over that. It will renew and move ahead or it will become irrellevent, I don’t see any other way for them. Maybe this pope can do it but we will see.

    • Excellent point. Here’s to a good renewing. Seeing the church become irrelevant would be painful, IMHO. They do too many good things that can’t be completely dropped, and it’s hard to imagine a secular organization being as dedicated and efficient.

  5. As a recovering catholic (who hopes mom isn’t reading) I can’t get too much into this pope without a lot of frustration and guilt coming up. But I agree that he seems like a good man and I hope he can reform. I won’t be happy until women are treated better than animals so I don’t see that coming but at least some steps into the 21st century would be a big improvement.

    • Don’t worry, we won’t tell your mom. 🙂 The role of women in the church is the one thing where Catholicism is very far behind any Protestant faith, and it does stand out especially. Many very conservative denominations are still accepting of women as pastors. So yes, that does seem important just by contrast.

  6. “Pope Benedict XVI was, at best, a waste of time and space.”

    Eh, he wasn’t the Mr. Fixit the Church could have used, but Caritas in Veritate was pretty good.

    • In fact, I’ll go farther than that. Benedict’s writings, along with his orthodox bonae fides, caused a not insignificant number of conservative American Catholics to reconsider their economic and social views. They might all still be Randians if not for Benedict (many, alas, still are).

    • I appreciate someone defending Pope Benedict XVI, and you are right. I have not read Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth) but seen a few selections which were pretty good about developed/rich people giving back to the world and encouraging fairness through more than just charity.
      Thank you, a good addition!

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