“How good it is for us when the Lord unsettles our lukewarm and superficial lives.”
– Pope Francis, tweeting as @Pontifex, 7 April 2014
Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week. This is the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, a hero to the adoring crowds. His subsequent challenge to the authorities who were jealous of his popularity got him tortured to death in just five days. It is a day meant for this new People’s Pope, now with a full year under the simple skull cap (or yarmulke) he is usually wears in public in place of the pointy miter of authority. But this Holy Week is a special one, and not just for this pope’s anniversary.
One week after the Easter celebration of resurrection Popes John XXII and John Paul II will be canonized as saints, recognizing their work as reformers of the Church to be the hand of God himself. They make a formidable pair, one more liberal and the other more conservative. Together, along with Francis’ year of tumult, this event will probably mark the start of a major leap for reform and reinvigoration of the Church. This is a good day to question authority and the “superficial lives” that coast along in need of renewal, and Pope Francis appears to have a plan.
Can twitter save the world? Probably not. But when the tweets are “Urbi et Orbi” it’s pretty likely they will be retweeted.
Over the last six weeks Pope Francis (@Pontifex) has delivered 140 characters of worldly homily nearly every day, but none of them have been as noticed as his message for 2 May – “My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost.” A small firestorm was created on the ‘net … well, the usual internet people behaved in an internet way about it and got their 140 getback. Whatever. But what matters is that Pope Francis is emerging as a leader for the rights of the downtrodden at a time when such leaders are needed – and is emphasizing things that reach out to embrace a slightly bigger world of the meek.
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.