How can one not love this new Pope?
Pope Francis talks about maintaining the “freshness and fragrance of the Gospel”. Wow, that sure is a nice turn of phrase.
We don’t expect our Popes to say anything novel or provocative. He reminds me of Bishop Fulton Sheen, who I watch from time to time on EWTN, although Bishop Sheen was much more incendiary and punitive. They both have a man-in-the-street common sense approach to modern Catholicism, rejecting the baked over rhetoric we used to hear from the pulpit. I am a “fallen-away Catholic”. As I mentioned elsewhere, my parents gave me the option to stop attending Mass when I left for college and of course I immediately dropped my 18-years of Catholic studentship. Mass routinely put me to sleep. The priests said nothing that spoke to my everyday life, but shook verbal fingers at me in case I were to commit any number of horrible infractions of God’s will that I had never even known about until they brought them up in the sermons. (Now that may speak more to what a sheltered life I had led, who knows). In fact, I learned more about the possible depravities that lurked around the corner from reading stories about the marytrs in the back of my little white missal than I had from the news up to that point. I only liked the rare high Mass with its incense and incantations – at least the medieval quality of that experience appealed to me aesthetically. Masses with the priests playing guitars and all of us high-fiving each other, did not. It seemed desperate and hokey.
I went out looking for other ideas, to learn about the world in other ways and see it from the perspective of other cultures and philosophies. In my opinion, if we are going to criticize what we know, we need to be armed with information and fill the gaps in about what we don’t know, before we can be credible. There was no way for a kid to assess the value and validity of Catholicism without finding out something about the alternatives.
From those explorations, I came back around to the message of kindness and charity that Christianity (at least at one time) espoused. Other than Buddhism, I cannot think of another tradition that makes sense, and Buddha was unconcerned with the mundane – he just preached balance and centeredness, not charity.
“From the outset of his papacy in March, Francis has chosen to use the global spotlight to focus instead on the church’s mandate to serve the poor and marginalized. He has washed the feet of juvenile prisoners, visited a center for refugees and hugged disabled pilgrims at his audiences.”
Back to Il Papa. I wish the fanatical Christians in this country would listen to Francis. It finally hit home to me this week that the Catholic Church as a body, are/is not against universal health care, food security assistance, Head Start, Meals-On-Wheels, or the Post Office! That distinction is the domain of the Evangelicals, a relatively new movement in Protestantism. Perhaps this obdurate and hard-hearted approach to suffering is an outgrowth of Puritanism or Calvinism, I have no idea having studied religions very little. But, for all its shortcomings (priestly pedophilia standing out among them, in my mind at least), Catholicism still has a heart and therefore actually reflects Christ! Anyway, every time Pope Francis is in the news, it is for something else admirable, like taking buses, or driving in a regular automobile and shunning the Pope-mobile. Or washing the feet of abused men or going into the slums and hugging the people. I think this representative of God on earth actually walks his talk. He is probably closer to being a real Christian than all the fire-and-brimstone preachers that are telling their congregations to turn their backs on suffering.
There are many good, decent, brilliant Evangelical ministers that would likely agree with Pope Francis on most issues and I applaud them, wherever they are. However, none has the attention of the entire world like this man, and I for one am grateful that he is on our side, the side of the ordinary people who are just struggling to be good and do the right thing, every day.
“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people,” he said. “We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”
If we need a Pope, I am glad it is this one.
Francis almost inspires me to go to Mass.
Images: NBC News and Global Post