Have you noticed? There are some people you love to meet. Even daily. They bring a freshness, a joy, a new perspective to each encounter and you begin to look forward to that. And you can never get enough of them. That's Pope Francis for me.
Pope Francis is truly a breath of fresh air. He is that paternal figure which while representing authority does not enforce rigid hierarchical structures that stem from absolute power/monarchic models. Rather, he suggests, proposes, enthuses and encourages. And he sets an example. He is inclusive, as Jesus was inclusive: towards the outcast, the unforgiven, the downtrodden, the different, the ones who are judged by ‘insider’ standards to be outsiders.
A case in point is his statement about meeting Atheists on common ground – while doing good! Anyone can do good and this is a mutually respectful starting point. We seem hell-bent (word deliberately chosen!) in bringing Jesus to others – He is the one and only way to the Father. True. But how do we bring the real Jesus to others if we do not know Him for ourselves first?
During Lent, I was asked to compose the Stations of the Cross for our FB page: something that people at work- or those with limited time or no access to a church visit - could download and reflect on. My brief was that the Stations had to be completely original. Why? There are so many Stations out there. All we had to do was abbreviate and acknowledge! No, it had to be our work and it had to be original. So, rather than re-process the familiar, I decided to go to the source: the Gospels. I was amazed to discover that Jesus’ falls were not on record nor was Veronica. In fact, the Way that we profess in Lent was probably the personal and private devotion of one who imagined himself – or herself – walking at the Saviour’s side on the way to Golgotha. The Gospels are sparse; a factual record of what happened in grueling and inexorable sequence. But the horror, the anguish, the agony of the man, the seeming futility of it all – that is up to us to know and understand. It took me many hours of reading, re-reading and reflection; of deliberate walking away because at times my mind came up blank of all thought. But, slowly, even hesitatingly, I would like to think that I got to know Jesus just a little. Certainly better than before. And I am still not confident of being able to introduce Him to another! Pope Francis is showing us how, in incremental steps, day by day.
With Pope Francis at the helm, I see a church that returns to its reason for existence – the path set out by Christ: follow my example, do as I do and simply love one another in word and action. Is this too simplistic? Perhaps. Because we are human and we like complicated answers.
There is an old Protestant hymn penned by Whittier (the words, over the years, have been adapted somewhat from the original) and they express best the vision I wish to convey:
O brother man, take to thy heart thy brother.
Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there.
To worship rightly is to love each other;
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.
Follow with reverent steps the great example
Of him whose holy work was doing good.
Then shall the wide earth seem our Father’s temple,
Each loving life a psalm of gratitude.
Then shall all shackles fall, the stormy clangour
Of wild war music o’er the world shall cease.
Love shall tread o’er the baleful fire of anger
And in its ashes plant the tree of peace.
Then shall the earth resound to children’s laughter,
And all its tragic cities ring with song.
So shall we leave for those who follow after
The realm of God, a world set free from wrong.
And to end with a smile, here is a typical Jesuit joke: A non-European Pope? Improbable. A Jesuit Pope? Impossible. A non-European, Jesuit Pope? A miracle!
Pope Francis, for me, is a miracle indeed.