March 16, 2013

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One Sentence Explains Everything About Pope Francis

An enduring criticism of the Church over a millennium involves its wealth and opulence. Its cathedrals were often the  most expensive and ornate structures in entire nations, save for monarch’s palaces. Lavish ceremonies mark significant milestones, such as the installation of a new pope.


So Pope Francis’s instruction to the bishops and faithful of his homeland Argentina says everything about why this pope will be different from all other popes.

Tell the bishops and the faithful to make an offering and an act of solidarity to the poor with the money instead.

Instead of what?  Instead of flying to Rome for his installation mass on Tuesday, March 19, at 3:30 a.m. Central.

Consistency With His New Name

This humble request is consistent with his name. Francis of Assisi was known for his devotion to a life of peace, poverty, and simplicity.

On Thursday, his first full day as pope, Francis left the Vatican without security to pay his hotel bill. Popes, of course, have people for that sort of minutiae. But not this pope.

And there’s this:

After he left the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis had an elegant car with the license plate “Stato Vaticano 1” waiting for him, but he declined it in favor of riding the last minibus back to Casa Santa Marta with his fellow bishops and cardinals.

Maybe We Can Make Social Justice A Good Thing

Pope Francis will speak and write of our duties to the poor often. Conservatives, rightfully wary of “social justice” sermons that sound a lot like calls to Marxism, might look on with a jaundiced eye. It’s important, I think, to keep in mind Francis of Assisi’s view of things, via Catholic Encyclopedia.

Moreover, Francis’s simple, childlike nature fastened on the thought, that if all are from one Father then all are real kin. Hence his custom of claiming brotherhood with all manner of animate and inanimate objects. The personification, therefore, of the elements in the “Canticle of the Sun” is something more than a mere literary figure. Francis’s love of creatures was not simply the offspring of a soft or sentimental disposition; it arose rather from that deep and abiding sense of the presence of God, which underlay all he said and did.

I pray that Pope Francis inspires everyone to be more generous with their own money, not with other people’s money. Paying taxes won’t get anyone to heaven, anymore than robbing Peter to Paul. I believe Francis can do more for the poor through his example than by exhorting governments to forcibly redistribute wealth.

We on the right would do well to avoid knee-jerk reactions when we hear Social Justice, though, until we understand what the phrase means at that moment.

Perhaps nothing so well summarizes Francis of Assisi’s life than his simple prayer. The prayer also helps us overcome the tendency to react to phrases we hate.

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury,pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

A simple prayer, but, oh, what a difficult path to follow. A psychological theory of “mirror neurons” tells us that we match others’ emotions and actions even before we realize it. A smile induces smiles from those who see it. Likewise, then, hate induces hate, injury induces retaliation; doubt, confusion; despair, more despair; and so on.

The Prayer of St. Francis, then, asks us to deny our biological humanity and substitute our divine humanity.

Argentinians who know and love Francis want to go to Rome, of course. National pride, too, will drive people toward the Vatican. This is a very big deal for the country.

Fitting with the irony of Francis of Assisi’s prayer is the irony of Pope Francis’s call. The greatest demonstration of obedience to the church, to this new pope, and to God would be  a sparse crowd on the most important day of Francis’s life.

P.S. This post began as a scathing attack on a former US Senator. Searching for a link to that story, I stumbled upon the story of Pope Francis asking people to stay home and give their travel funds to the poor. I intend to write about that Senator later. But I’ll do my best to meet his vitriol with love. Your prayers will help.