In his defense, he had his hands full keeping order in Rome a century after it was abandoned for Constantinople by the imperial leadership. Also, he had that minor chore of negotiating with Attila the Hun to prevent the destruction of the Eternal City.
So chances are he wasn’t warm and fuzzy. But that’s not necessarily what the people needed at the time.
Marauders aren’t waiting at the city gates for Pope Francis, but he and Leo have something special in common: Francis, too, is a great match for the needs of the world at a particular moment.
He demonstrates a humility that is refreshingly countercultural. Days after being launched into celebrity status he returned to his hotel to pay the bill. Since then his pontificate has included more “jes’ folks” moments. While others are using power and fame to remove themselves from everyday situations, he is using his to elevate the mundane.
Speaking of money, Francis’ emphasis on poverty is timely. Widening gaps between rich and poor have us at a frightening crossroads, with unconscionable numbers of people in dire straits – both in the first- and developing worlds – every day. Meanwhile, the haves keep having more, and many cultures thoughtlessly celebrate excess.
Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry. We all have to think if we can become a little poorer, all of us have to do this. How can I become a little poorer in order to be more like Jesus, who was the poor Teacher?” – (quoted in NCR)
A pope who highlights poverty casts a harsh light on economic equality. The Gospel message is clear about care for the poor and attachments to money, but we allow ourselves to water the message down. That we should care for the poor, and even be poor ourselves, is again countercultural and hard to hear.
Not only does Francis bring a message of peace (such as his statements on Syria), he spreads that message while connecting people in networks of solidarity. By asking all Catholics to fast and pray for peace in Syria, and asking other people of faith to participate in whatever way they could, he allowed people to feel like part of a “we”. Inclusion is one other deep need of the human heart, and Francis is using the unprecedented amount of connectedness that modern technology allows to draw us together.
He is also using technology to reach individuals, though he seems to prefer the phone for his outreach. Recently it was reported that he called an unwed mother to offer her support and encouragement after she learned the father of her child was married and wanted her to have an abortion.
That last example speaks to the biggest need that Francis is meeting right now: the need for clear signs of love. Economies are fragile, wars are imminent, anger is easily accessed and people are scared.
In an age where culture wars play out on TV and easy answers are found with a few clicks of the mouse, perhaps we don’t need a leader who beats us over the head with the rules. We know the rules. Instead of reminding us of doctrine, Francis reminds us of the value that undergirds and supports doctrine, and the reason we have doctrine: love.
By leading with his heart, Francis appeals to the many people weary of arguments and an approach to faith that is solely rational. I recognize the value of knowing our faith with our head, but that faith is incomplete until we know in our heart that God cares for us and that our lives should be a love affair with God. Who better to show us that than the Vicar of Christ?
photo Tânia Rêgo/ABr (Agência Brasil) [CC-BY-3.0-br], via Wikimedia Commons
How else do you see Pope Francis meeting the needs of the world today?