I really can’t believe it has been 3 years (and one day) since the election of Pope Francis. I was sitting in my library carrel on the 11th floor of Notre Dame’s Hesburgh library, watching the streaming live-feed of the smoke from the Vatican, anticipating a new pope for only the second time in my life. I remember, like most Vatican watchers, being initially dumbfounded at the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the humble cardinal from Argentina. And now, three years in, keeping with the dumbfounded reaction, I am consistently humbled by the actions and words of the Holy Father.
Obviously, no, he is not perfect–as he would be the first to say–but he is moving, unifying, and prophetic in ways that move me deeply.
Two examples of this recently. First, Francis’ book, The Name of God is Mercy, is the simplest of messages but the most challenging of topics. When my children drive me over the cliff that is my patience, or when the state foster system is so full of red tape that you wonder how anyone is EVER adopted, it is humbling and helpful to hear a refrain of mercy in the back of my head.
Be merciful, as the Father is merciful, I saw over and over again during my brief trip to Rome in December. Mercy claws at the scales of frustration, hate, and anger. Mercy rips at the fabric of my righteous justice against those who destroy the world. Mercy allows God to be God, and me to just be me.
Second, the Pope–we are reminded painfully during Presidential election years– has no political power. Francis did not campaign to be elected. He did not raise billions of dollars. Indeed, the entire system of US elections, not just one candidate, exemplifies the waste and opulence of the wealthiest country in the world more than any other statistic. While it saddens me deeply to see the rhetoric of a certain candidate, let us remember that, contrary to Church teachings, the death penalty is still allowed, illegal immigrants are still deported, bombs are still dropped on countless citizens around the world, schools are failing, abortions are continuing, income inequality is increasing, orphans are not being adopted, and corporations are continuing to reduce the dignity of the individual person.
Because of this, I appreciate Francis and his call to mercy so, so much. Because sometimes all I want to do is yell at people and storm the Bastille. Yet Christ–through Francis–asks me to have mercy. And patience. And faith. And hope. And love.
Finally, with any mention of Francis, I must mention my gratefulness at the act of humility that began the possibility of a Francis pontificate: Benedict XVI’s shocking and unprecedented resignation on February 11, 2013. As DT author Brian Flanagan wrote, “This may well be Benedict’s greatest gift to the church, not only for a more consistently competent papacy, but for a renewed understanding of the proper place of the pope within a more collegial church. I’m cautiously hopeful given the last time a pope surprised a group of his cardinals this completely – when John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council.”
With Francis only three years into his pontificate, we’re not at the “Vatican II” DEFCON yet, but should the good Lord give him a few more years, who knows where we will be. Either way, I am grateful, so grateful, for Benedict and for Francis, for leaders that are humble and bold, and for a Roman Catholicism that brings me back to God’s mercy and love each and every day.