I have never been particularly attentive to the teachings, the movements, or the character of the Roman Catholic papacy. (I was raised by my parents to keep the Roman Catholic Church at arm’s length for the most part. Not judgmental, but wary.) But I must now say that the current Pope is a unique breath of fresh air. He commands attention and respect at almost every turn. Not calling attention to himself, but modeling servant ministry.
He rides an (almost antique) Renault. He refuses to live in anything but the most austere quarters at the Vatican. He mixes quickly with the common people—much to the chagrin of his security team. He is an outspoken advocate for peace and economic justice issues—with a passionate concern for the poor. He makes public statements against the undue influence of accumulated wealth and possessions (not the evil of such things, but the undue influence!). Just the other day I learned that Pope Francis moves out of the Vatican at night in simple priestly garb to minister to the poor and homeless around Rome.
If memory serves me correctly, he said to the College of Cardinals upon his election, “You do not know what you have done here.” I’m sure many of them now understand that declaration. Many are as startled as I am at his “definition” of what it means to be the head of the Roman Catholic Church. However, those who have known him best for several decades are not entirely surprised.
He has elicited criticism along the way, of course. Many believers prefer a more stately and lofty image of the papacy. Some don’t like what they see at all. One widely heard conservative pundit even called him a “Marxist” in recent days.
Jesus came to turn the world upside down. Luke records where some jealous Jews in Thessalonica observed, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.” (Acts 17:6) Exactly!
Whether we like it or not, Christianity runs counter to the world’s standards. That statement was made in ancient Roman culture; the statement still applies today. Pope Francis is a small but clear witness to that reality.
What does your leadership say to those around you? How does your witness impact and give direction to would-be believers, “wanna believers”, and uncommitted alike?
Jesus is a new word to a misdirected world. He came to show us a Kingdom on Earth that is far better than the kingdoms of this world. Advent-to-Christmas remains the best news ever! Even when that news startles us!
Tuesday, December 10, 2013