Friday, March 15, 2013


It seems our prayers may have been answered. We have a Pope who is a pastor before he is an academic. We have a Pope who focuses on poverty before he allows luxury in his own life and to which he is entitled by office. We have a Pope who in his first homily as Pope, said, “...(I)f we do not confess Jesus Christ..... we will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church.... 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.”

This is a shot across the bow of those in places of power in the Church – anywhere in the Church – that live with the perqs and talk out the other side of their/ our mouths about the great social/ moral issues of the day. Without Christ at the centre of our lives and of our way of thinking, and of our efforts, we become as just one more among many NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations – think Greenpeace, Amnesty International and hundreds of thousands of bodies like that who take on social justice, environmental etc causes). And by way of contrast with Benedict who taught those things, Francis starts by living them.

As his namesake St Francis of Assisi said, ‘Preach always, and if necessary, use words.’ The model he is setting is not one of saying what is wrong about living in privilege while talking of poverty, but rather of showing how to make it right in your life.

In addition to all this, Pope Francis seems to have a spine. There is some debate happening about his relationship with the Argentine military dictatorship of years past, and we will learn more about that. What we are focused on in the near term, however, is how he will handle the financial and power scandals in the Vatican, and how he will deal with continuing fall-out from the clergy sexual abuse scandals around the world. We have a good sense of some of his thoughts, from his 2010 book ‘On Earth and Heaven’. In the book he says that moving offending priests around “... is stupid, because the priest continues to carry the problem in his backpack.” Rather, the priest should be ‘sacked and tried, that putting the church’s reputation first was a mistake.’

Oh my goodness, how refreshing.

In talking about St. Francis of Assisi he says, “He brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time. He changed history.”

Does this sound like someone who will play the ‘old boys’ club game? I think not.

But beyond all this, there is something moving about him, something that gets me. I am more than delighting in the prospects for the Church, more than intrigued by his credibility regarding simplicity and poverty. I am finding it compelling and inviting. These aren’t brilliant ideas as Benedict could conjure, but rather warm invitations. Easy to relate to. Easy to imagine following. Making the call to holiness sound do-able, sound better than the alternative. In short, I find him changing me. Did not have that reaction in 2005. More later.

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