"Will Francis the First be able to bear the full truths of a conflicted world, walk amidst gray smoke and tigers, rage against loss of deep and abiding compassion in a world demanding doctrine and battle?" (from "paradox" in Gaia Compass blog, by Michelle Atkins, March 14, 2013) ( For full disclosure, the writer is my wife.)
For Pope Francis to move the world from doctrine and battle, from debates over gay marriages, abortion, and women in the church, to a comprehensive and reflective embrace of Lady Poverty, to whom Saint Francis dedicated his life, would be not only a spiritual revolution but also a political, economic and cultural revolution.
The gap has grown exponentially between the have's and the have-not's, across the globe, without the church or the political leadership coming to grips with causes, symptoms and solutions. The church has been seemingly fixated by the dust balls of pettiness, power and control, while millions of lives are literally threatened with disease, poverty, lack of education, health care and clean water. And while church growth is the over-riding motive for any measures to improve the lot of those so dispossessed, the new evangelization, nevertheless, whatever projects that can and will be inspired by the new pontiff to lift the starving out of their depravity, in all corners of the world, will never be enough.
Nevertheless, if and when this holy man brings a message of compassion, concern, agape and challenge to the board rooms of the elite in every culture, he will light a fire of hope in the hearts and minds of those to whom he has dedicated his pontificate.
He will be, as was Francis, scorned, ridiculed, rejected, alienated even by those he calls friends. He will, like Francis, carry stones to chapels to rebuild their eroding walls, only to be shown the exit and the contempt of even the clergy he is attempting to support.
Eating with tax-collectors and prostitutes is not a ministry that seems congruent with the aspirations of most people sitting in pews in all churches around the globe. It was Morley Callaghan, the Toronto writer, in Such is My Beloved, who portrayed a congregation calling for the head of their priest, merely because he provided clothes for two prostitutes, without engaging them in anything remotely sexual, more from an innocent and idealistic motive to help them see the nature of their lives. The priest was eventually committed to a mental hospital, for his indiscretions, or as the congregation called them, his sins. You see, he was bringing dishonour on their parish.
Imagine Jesus bringing dishonour on his little band of disciples by befriending his choice of human beings.
The church, and this includes all christian churches, not only the Roman Catholic, have so much work to do to transform the attitudes of the people sitting in their pews, whose self-righteous faux-piety, and whose "control of the church" purchased with their substantial contributions renders the ministry cut-off at the knees before it even begins, because the people in charge are blind to the plank in their own eye, while they busily point out the speck in the other person's eye.
We hope and pray that Francis I is, through humility, reflection, prayer, and persistent dedication to his chosen ministry, able to shake the barnacles of tradition, the fossils of superiority, and the harnesses of hypocrisy from the leadership in Rome, from the thelogical colleges, from their candidates for priesthood, from the religious and from the 1.2 billion parishioners, and spark the kind of quiet revolution that measure the flow of interest, compassion and even dollars out to the deserts of Africa, and the slums of Beunos Aires, to the reserves of Attawapiskat, and even through the catacombs of the Vatican.
Whether we are christian or not, whether we have any faith at all, we can all envision a new Pope bringing hope where there was despair, love where there was hate, and joy where there were only tears.
And can all pray for such a global transformation....and carry a little flicker of that candle in our hearts as we move about in our daily routines.