January 5, 2014 A View from the Rectory Window

As a New Year commences, I propose excerpts from a commentary on why Pope Francis was identified as Man of the Year for 2013 by Time magazine. As we step into a new year, I offer this gift to all who seek to engage in a new year in a meaningful way.

“Once there was a boy so meek and modest, he was awarded a Most Humble badge. The next day, it was taken away because he wore it. Here endeth the lesson.

How do you practice humility from the most exalted throne on earth? Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly—young and old, faithful and cynical—as has Pope Francis. In his nine months in office, he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power.

At a time when the limits of leadership are being tested in so many places, along comes a man with no army or weapons, no kingdom beyond a tight fist of land in the middle of Rome but with the immense wealth and weight of history behind him, to throw down a challenge. The world is getting smaller; individual voices are getting louder; technology is turning virtue viral, so his pulpit is visible to the ends of the earth. When he kisses the face of a disfigured man or washes the feet of a Muslim woman, the image resonates far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church.

Francis [proposes] . . . Don’t just preach; listen, he says. Don’t scold; heal.

And . . . in less than a year, he has done something remarkable: he has not changed the words, but he’s changed the music. Tone and temperament matter in a church built on the substance of symbols—bread and wine, body and blood—so it is a mistake to dismiss any Pope’s symbolic choices­ as gestures empty of the force of law. He released his first exhortation, an attack on “the idolatry of money,” just as Americans were contemplating the day set aside for gratitude and whether to spend it at the mall. This is a man with a sense of timing. He lives not in the papal palace surrounded by courtiers but in a spare hostel surrounded by priests. He prays all the time, even while waiting for the dentist. He has retired the papal Mercedes in favor of a scuffed-up Ford Focus. No red shoes, no gilded cross, just an iron one around his neck. When he rejects the pomp and the privilege, releases information on Vatican finances for the first time, reprimands a profligate German Archbishop, cold-calls strangers in distress, offers to baptize the baby of a divorced woman whose married lover wanted her to abort it, he is doing more than modeling mercy and ­transparency. He is ­embracing complexity and acknowledging the risk that a church obsessed with its own rights and righteousness could inflict more wounds than it heals. Asked why he seems uninterested in waging a culture war, he refers to the battlefield. The church is a field hospital, he says. Our first duty is to tend to the wounded. You don’t ask a bleeding man about his cholesterol level. His focus on the poor and the fact that the world’s poorest 50% control barely 1% of its wealth.

The heart is a strong muscle; he’s proposing a rigorous exercise plan. And in a very short time, a vast, global, ecumenical audience has shown a hunger to follow him. For pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world’s largest church to confronting its deepest needs and for balancing judgment with mercy.”

I believe that Pope Francis shows us all how meaningful a life is lived, if lived, in accord with our faith. Would it be so extraordinary in this New Year for us to consider embracing our faith in Jesus, living our faith as he taught, and bearing witness to Him in our lives?

Fr. Pete

2013 Christmas COTR 008