The moment swamps my cynicism: the new pope on the balcony, greeting the people in the square who gathered in hope, daring to love him just because he’s the pope. It’s a moment that breeches the defenses of my heart and overwhelms my better judgment. From my Catholic childhood, I learned a deep love and respect for the pope as father and shepherd. In childhood it was so easy to believe that his love for me was pure and unconditional. I, of course, was unaware that others were excluded from that love. As an adult, the Church’s many small and large failures to love fully and completely all of God’s creation drove me from the fold. To tell the truth, having lived a dutifully adult, cynical and Protestant life for more than thirty years, I continue to miss being loved benevolently from afar. I can’t recapture my childhood innocence, and I do not wish to return to childhood ignorance, but on the day of white smoke, when the new Pope faces the people in mutual love, I am a child again, yearning to be loved completely, as I am, with my failures and faults. And I dare to wish that this human father will dare, as God intends, to adopt us all.
Pope Francis I. As a Protestant, why should I care about him? Well, he is the new leader of 1.2 billion of my fellow Christians – and he has a lot of work to do. Like the man he apparently models himself after, Saint Francis of Assisi, God is calling him to “rebuild my Church.” That’s a big job. And it’s not just Catholics that are counting on him to do that; this Protestant is counting on him, too. As far as I’m concerned, we are in this together. The sex scandal that tragically plagues the Catholic Church is bigger than the Catholic Church. It’s indicative of a tragic restlessness within every human heart and our need for transformation. Saint Francis was known for a radical transformation of his heart. He was born into wealth and struggled with the restlessness of human desire. He gave it all up for the love of God and of his fellow human beings, especially the marginalized of human society. The Early Rule of St. Francis claims, “They should be glad to live among social outcasts, among the poor and helpless, the sick and the lepers, and those who beg by the wayside.” I know Cardinal Bergoglio wasn’t perfect and there is some controversy about his leadership in Argentina. None of us is perfect, and I don’t expect Pope Francis I to be perfect, either. But I do pray for Pope Francis, that he will live not by a desire for perfection, but by faith. That he will faithfully pattern himself after Saint Francis and do the hard work of rebuilding God’s Church. In doing so, Pope Francis will model for all Christians the life of faith, love, and holiness that God is calling all of us to live into.
Does the pope matter to you? Why or why not?