Friday, April 5, 2013

New Pope Brings New Hope

Asking priest-friends what they think of the new pope, I hear most of them reply, "I have hope."

Pope Benedict's farewell used the image "disfigured face" to describe the Church of the twenty-first century.

He must have been thinking of the hierarchy's failure to manage the priest-pedophilia problem as well as the scandal emanating from the Vatican bank.

The choice of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as successor to Pope Benedict signaled the electors' intention to pursue a new regimen for repairing the Church and attending to its disfigured face.

Reports from the Vatican suggest that Pope Francis has taken on the challenge like a leader who knows that change is needed and who intends to make those changes.

There is not the least hint that Pope Francis will change dogma, but there is clearly reason to believe that he will alter the way the Church has been doing business.

His decision to appoint Vatican officials back to their old posts on a temporary basis sends a message.

Unlike his predecessors Pope Francis has been having lunch with Vatican employees. A bank employee who attended one such luncheon said, "He is genuinely interested in you and gives you his full attention...I can honestly say, I spent more time talking with this pope than the last two combined."

The menu, the bank employee further noted, "was nothing fancy...just a small salad, some pasta and a chocolate cookie for dessert. To drink, a choice of coffee or tea --No vino! --which you could tell disappointed some of the old guard."

Pope Francis is clearly a pastoral priest. His presence among and in the crowds is not a publicity stunt. He is simply being the open and loving person he has been for decades. The stories told of his behaviors as cardinal (riding the bus, living in simple quarters) give witness to a well-practiced modus operandi.

The hope inspired by the new pope is refreshing. His emphasis is not on externals; he shies away from pomp and circumstance. He is motivated by his spirituality. He knows Jesus.

His washing the feet of women on Holy Thursday upset some pope-watchers. They said, "He broke the law!" (The Holy Thursday rubric in the Roman Missal says, "The men who have been chosen..."). We can only speculate whether there were women among the disciples whose feet Jesus washed at the Last Supper. For Pope Francis, "disciples" obviously includes women.

That Vatican bank employee who cherished his time and luncheon with Pope Francis concluded, "I think he is going to be a very good Pope! And no one is going to tell him what to do. He is his own man. Let's hope he will be with us for a long time!"

The hope inspired by our new pope is like the dawn after a long night. It is a feeling of expectation that things will get better, that the Church will more faithfully reflect the Gospel and more engagingly fulfill its mission and ministry.

When the bishops at the Second Vatican Council analyzed their role in the Church, they said that "bishops should be with their people as those who serve...(that) they should arrange their own lives to meet the needs of the times...(that) they should ensure that the faithful are duly involved in church affairs.." (Christus Dominus, #16).

Pope Francis seems to have taken a page from the council document and from the Gospels.

A Franciscan-Jesuit ---he breathes new hope in an old Church, and the disfigured face is beginning to smile!

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