Thursday, March 14, 2013


   In the Spirit of Christ, who brings ever new, evolving hope and life to the church and world, let us all pray that Francis will fulfill the promise of new hope and life that his election brings.

    His choice of a name helps put our prayer in focus.  Like St. Francis of Assisi, who was a poor and humble nature mystic, may Francis champion the poor, sick, vulnerable and outcast, and may he be a loving protector of all of nature.  Like St. Francis Xavier, the missionary, may be help the church grow throughout the world, not merely in number but in faith, hope and joy, by inspiring us to give ever increasing, prophetic, humble and loving service to all peoples.

   Reports are coming in on Francis' personal views.  Here his humility will be tested.  As pope, he will need to put his personal views aside and realize that the office of the papacy is different from the man who holds that office.  (Benedict clearly showed that when he resigned.)  As Jesus intended for Peter to do, Francis will have to listen to the whole church and then authoritatively teach only what the whole church believes.

   He is reported to personally champion the poor and outcast.  His personal view is his own.  But here, it is clearly in line with the teachings of Jesus and the whole church.  (Even the Democratic and Republican parties agree on this teaching in principle.)  We therefore pray that as pope, he proclaims social justice ever more effectively.

   He is also reported to personally hold "conservative" views on various social/sexual issues.  Again, his personal views are his own.  But holding "conservative" views is invalid for a pope, just as holding "liberal" views is invalid.  In fact, such issues are being seriously questioned throughout the whole church today, especially on grounds of contemporary information and understanding concerning human sexuality and human nature itself.  Such understanding and discernment have always been a factor in determining what is moral, and therefore must be seriously listened to.

   If Francis does not listen to the whole church--if he simply imposes his personal views on the church--he will forsake his humility and contradict the explicit will of Jesus by lording it over the people.  Here he faces a great challenge.  He has inherited an office that is encrusted with centuries of accumulated imperial power.  As a result, the teaching office of the church now lives within a bubble of "creeping infallibility," whereby it cannot admit it was ever wrong in the past (e.g., the Crusades, the Inquisition and slavery), and that it can therefore never change any teaching.  Fear of contradicting his immediate predecessors may tempt Francis to take such imperial power to himself.  Rejecting this power and breaking out of this bubble will be a great challenge for him.  The success of his papacy may rest on his success or failure in this regard.

   For now at least, let us live in hope as we pray for Francis, and for the whole church and world.  As I say at the top of this blog, people are suffering, waiting is not an option.

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