Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why I think Pope Francis is a Pretty Groovy Guy

Well, my first inclination is just to be like, "Because he is!" and throw down the mic. But I know that wouldn't really have the effect I'm going for.

In all honesty, though, I've been following what the pope has been doing since he was elected for one, because Benedict's abdication was so atypical, but also for two, because Fr. Jorge Bergoglio started off his papacy with things that seemed like sheer lunacy. Of course, now those lunatic things have become somewhat normal for him as a public figure, but they persist in being so simple and revolutionary for the Roman Catholic Church as well as Christianity at large.  So I guess I need to jump on the bandwagon with my Francis crush. Or at least I'll admit that I'm in good company writing about him (seriously, this is the most recent thing I've seen about him on the Religion News Service... and there is plenty more where that came from).

Borrowed from Devoutly Catholic

So what are these lunatic things that make me so enchanted with this groovy religious leader for whom I am not obligated in any way, shape, or form to give obeisance? Oh, let me count the ways:

1) He uses Twitter

Okay, okay, I know that Benedict created the feed, but Francis is actually using it. In fact the pope's Twitter feed is one of the most interesting feeds of any religious leader that I follow. For a while there, it was infinitely more interesting than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby's Twitter (since then, Justin has stepped up his game, so the two leaders are a little more comparable now; but Francis' feed still beats Justin's... #sorrynotsorry).

But it's not just the fact that he has a Twitter account that he uses (and uses well). It's the effect of having Twitter that I like. In other words, it makes him seem more accessible. For example, when Francis was getting ready for the World Youth Day and while he was there, he was tweeting for the kids. The effect of having a Twitter means that the pope is not some old white guy, living in a palace someplace called the Vatican in Rome. Now he's online. He's relevant. Anybody can follow him and tweet at him (though I do not know whether he tweets back).

2) He does all kinds of unexpected, shockingly simple Gospel-based things
Such as embracing and kissing a man who has a serious skin condition
Picture from The Boeskool

I also hear the pope also regularly sneaks out of the Vatican to help homeless people at night.
Thanks, HuffPo, for the picture!

But seriously, even if we set aside Francis' escapades, what has happened to us that a leader of a church, acting precisely like Jesus did, has become a scandalous, unheard-of kind of thing? Seriously!

3) He is accepting
The two prime examples that I've seen of Francis' acceptance of real people are Jacquelina Lisbona, the Argentine woman who wanted to receive the Eucharist, and the things Francis has said about LGBT individuals participating in the Church.

Okay, so brief background on each of these:

  • Lisbona lives in Argentina (where the pope was born and raised, keep in mind) and she has a civil marriage with a man who was married previously, thus disallowing the two of them to have a church marriage. She had written a letter to the pope, saying that her local parish priest had denied her communion, since she was not ecclesiastically married (and I think that would mean the priest would not give communion to anyone "living in sin"). Francis received and read her letter, then called her, telling her that "some priests are more papist that the pope) and she should seek out communion at a different parish. 
  • When Francis was on the plane, coming back from the World Youth Day, he was taking questions from reporters. One of them asked him about an alleged "gay lobby" in the Vatican. Francis stated simply "There's a lot of talk about the gay lobby, but I've never seen it on the Vatican ID card! ... When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being a part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized." NOTE: it was probably because of this one that he was named Person of the Year by The Advocate

Now, I will say it before anyone else does: both of these examples and what the pope allegedly meant or allegedly did not mean are hotly contested. But I'm going to come in and say that, at the very least, he is talking about the issues. But if they are both true, it indicates a shift. Acting in this way means that Francis is willing to accept people as they are; flawed and broken, human and striving, not as serene, faultless figures like the ones on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. Acting in this way means that Francis is opening things up for transformation, as messy as that is. And I appreciate it because it feels much more real than watching church people walk around like they've got a stick up their rear end.

4) He takes seriously the ideas of poverty and humility taught by Jesus
This one is probably one of the biggest reasons that I think Pope Francis is so groovy. So the story I read was that Francis heard that a diocese in Germany was getting ready to build a $43 million mansion for their bishop. And when he heard about that, he expelled the bishop. Just like that. Go Francis.

But then again, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. Before he was Pope Francis, Fr. Bergoglio was a Provincial Superior in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). And those guys, for all the misguided conquests they've been party to, take seriously the vows they take. And one of the first things that they avow is a life of poverty. In addition to this kind of austere material life, Francis came into his papacy with two very humble, surprising things: he decided not to stay in the "papal suite" in the Vatican and he also asked onlookers to pray for him when he was presented as pope. My wife makes this point very adamantly, that it was a simple thing for him to ask everyone to pray for his guidance. But once again, it was also a surprising thing. I'm sure he brought those tendencies with him from the Jesuits but he also carried them quietly, solidly into his papacy as well.

And when it comes down to it, I guess none of this really should have surprised me when I heard that a Jesuit was elected as pope. The reason for that is, along with all the vows they take, the Society also promotes social justice and ecumenical dialogue. That means that this pattern of life, as well as all of these things I've written about and more, is what Fr. Bergoglio was all about before he went to the Vatican.

In my book, a person who lived a life like this is called a bridge builder. Francis would probably be on board if I asked him about particular ways to help and comfort the least, the last, and the lost. I think he's more into forgiveness and relationship than he is about using doctrine as the sword to determine who is in his "club" and who is out. There is plenty more to why I think he's so groovy, but I think this is a pretty good start. Anyone have any other thoughts?