How about that Pope Francis? It seems that every few days there is another interesting news story about how he’s shifting the gears for the way the papacy is exercised. He seems to be leading by example. We all know the drama from his first few weeks. Let’s start with Francis. He was the first pope ever to use the name of our most beloved saint. There are lots of aspects of Francis—the obvious one, and the one the media picked up on—is that Francis was a simple man. This would be a different pope.
But St. Francis was, foremost, a Church reformer. The Church in its institution (papal court, bishops, churches, etc.) had become disconnected from the experience of everyday people. Francis saw a different Church, a Church that embraced and loved the poor as Jesus did. That’s not just something polite or charitable (though it is that, too); it is a profound redirecting of priorities.
Others were moving away from the corrupted Church; St. Francis was moved by the Holy Spirit to work from within. Pope Innocent’s vision of Francis, the night after St. Francis had first presented his idea of his new Order to the pope, was a dream of this poor man holding up St. John Lateran cathedral, the St. Peter’s of its day. Francis would go on to rebuild the Church in his humble way.
So Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s choice of Pope Francis as his new name was an embrace of the poverty of Francis, but with, we can see, reform of the Church in mind. Through simplicity and love of poverty, Christ will speak to his Church. Pope Francis knows that, and wants all of us to, too.
The rest of the Pope’s actions follow from that: his bowing before the people in St. Peter’s square, asking for their blessing; his keeping his iron crucifix to wear instead of a gold one; his wearing a “used” papal ring; his celebrating Mass with the people in the small parish; his rejection of the plush papal apartments in favor of a hotel suite.
Maybe most moving, and surely a sign of things to come, is his washing the feet of young, incarcerated men and women, Catholic, Muslim, agnostic, on Holy Thursday. His words to them are words to all of us: “Press on! Don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope. Understood?”
CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters