Śto Lat, Pope Francis!

Pope smiles as he arrives to lead general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Four years ago today, the world was introduced to Pope Francis. As the Habemus Papam was announced, journalists struggled to fill in the many blanks. Argentina? Jorge Bergoglio? Francis? Why Francis? Within moments of his appearance on the papal balcony, we were given some important clues about this  man.

Where was the rich, papal finery and cross? Where were the victory waves, the triumphant looks of joy and pride at becoming the most powerful leader in the Catholic Church?

francis 2

Instead, we saw an elderly, timid, somewhat confused-looking man. Perhaps he simply forgot to put on the rest of his papal garb? Perhaps he just needed a crash course in papal balcony protocol?

And then came the moment of magic. As the world waited to be blessed by their new pope, he first asked US to bless HIM!

pope francis blessing

We often ask “where were you when…?”. I was sitting in hubby’s dental chair when the news was announced. Hubby stopped mid-way in my tooth repair. Along with our staff, our attention was glued to my iPad on the counter. It’s a moment I will never forget. It’s a moment that still gives me goose-bumps.


The following hours and days were filled with small actions that spoke loudly of the kind of pope Francis wanted to be. He took the bus with fellow cardinals. He stopped at the hotel to pay his bill. He wore his own, simple episcopal cross and mitre. He carried his own suitcase. And then there were the shoes. Ah, the shoes…

popes shoes

His choice of footwear wouldn’t have been a big deal if not for the extravagant clothing of his predecessor. You can’t judge a book by its cover. But…sometimes you can.

This year’s anniversary is especially poignant. We yearn for leaders of integrity, who see beyond their own self-interests. We need leaders who will work for both the good of their country as well as the good of the world. We need leaders whose vision is grounded in seeking justice and peace for all. We need leaders who give us hope, not increase our fears.

Francis is such a leader. In an  NCR interview by Joshua J. McElwee, Cardinal Cupich of Chicago gives an excellent analysis of the first four years of the Francis papacy. Becoming a more “synodal”, collaborative church was a key concept in the Second Vatican Council, and is a foundational part of Francis’s vision for the church. Cardinal Cupich describes it this way,

I find that it does two things. First of all, it gives you insight into what the issue is by hearing other voices. And secondly, it keeps you from the temptation that you have to in some way make all the decisions, and the weight falls on you.

Or even worse, that you make your work an exercise in your own ego being affirmed. Because there is a temptation at times to make your whole work an exercise in narcissism, where you want to in some way prove yourself by the decisions that you make.

That’s very tempting to people who are in positions of authority. You want to build this building, you want to do this particular task that you want to leave behind as a legacy. I think that if you do that you’re really not going to be free to address the issues that are there because you’re going to be blinded by the task that you think is going to affirm your own ego.

Cardinal Cupich also reminds us that we  must be grateful to Benedict XVI for his wisdom and courage. If Benedict had not resigned, we would not have Francis.

I hope and pray that Francis will be with us for many years. In Polish, we wish for Śto Lat!…one hundred years of life! Let’s all raise a glass today. To Francis…Śto Lat!


francis speaks out against clericalism…again!

Pope Francis continues to make daily head-lines that excite this liberal heart. Here’s one from yesterday, written by NCR’s Joshua J. McElwee,

Francis: Spirit works in laypeople, ‘is not property of the hierarchy’

On the one hand, it’s sad that this announcement makes head line news. Shouldn’t it be obvious that the Holy Spirit isn’t an exclusive gift to priests, bishops and popes? And, yet, how many times have we been led to believe that those with the sacred oils of ordination have a direct line to the Divine while we, the great unwashed in the pews, are wallowing in ignorance?

Ongoing Vatican reports on Pope Francis, like the one above, provide a path-way to a deeper understanding of Amoris Laetitia. As much as I have would have loved Francis to single-handedly sweep away all church teachings that have caused women and men to feel excluded from the Body of Christ, I also know that I would not want other popes to have this kind of power.

What Francis is doing is greater than simply changing laws. He is challenging minds and hearts to prepare the way for a more participatory, egalitarian and inclusive church.

Clericalism is the antithesis of a participatory, egalitarian and inclusive spirit. In the NCR story above, Francis called clericalism “one of the greatest deformations that Latin America must confront”. The context was a letter written to Cardinal Marc Ouellet in his role as head of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. The pope is obviously well acquainted with the church in Latin America, and feels strongly about the issues that he is addressing.

Francis speaks often about the evils of clericalism, and the damage it has imposed on the church. In the letter , he writes,

Clericalism, far from giving impulse to diverse contributions and proposals, turns off, little by little, the prophetic fire from which the entire Church is called to give testimony in the heart of its peoples…Clericalism forgets that the visibility and the sacramentality of the Church belongs to all the people of God and not only an elect or illuminated few.

One of the most quoted lines from Amoris Laetitia is,

We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them. AL, 37.

In the letter to Cardinal Ouellet, He writes,

We trust in our people, in their memory and in their ‘sense of smell,’ we trust that the Holy Spirit works in and with them, and that this Spirit is not only the ‘property’ of the ecclesial hierarchy.

The Holy Spirit works in each of us? We might have better knowledge than a priest of what is right and wrong in our own situation? Who would have known!

Clericalism IS at the heart of much that is wrong with our church. Clericalism feeds, supports and shelters the power and control that has been associated with the hierarchy for centuries. Clericalism wraps itself in finery and surrounds itself with symbols of prestige. Clericalism demands to be served rather than to serve.

Francis is nudging the People of God to an adult faith, a faith that sheds an unhealthy and dysfunctional dependence on “Father”. Father does not always know best. Clericalism stifles the independence and freedom needed to be formed into spiritually, emotionally, physically and intellectually mature women and men.

It’s here…Amoris Laetitia!

Pope Francis’s long awaited Apostolic Exhortation on the family,  Amoris Laetitia; On Love in the Family was released today in Rome. Cyberspace has been hopping with “hot of the press” commentaries. While there are no earth shattering changes in doctrine reported, there is a definite paradigm shift taking place in our church. And, this shift will be rocking many doctrinal stalwarts who prefer the old days of judgment to the Francis era of mercy.

Joshua J. McElwee, NCR’s Rome correspondent, gave an excellent summary in an article titled Francis’ exhortation a radical shift to see grace in imperfection, without fearing moral confusion. Here are just some of the hope filled quotes from Amoris Laetitia as reported by McElwee.

Stressing the importance of discernment over black and white judgment, Francis writes,

Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits…By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God…

Here’s a winner quote on the importance of personal conscience,

We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations…We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them…

For those who focus on criticizing secular culture, Francis has this to say,

We have often been on the defensive, wasting pastoral energy on denouncing a decadent world without being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness…

Again, for those who demand no flexibility in the church’s teachings,

I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion…But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, ‘always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street

His practical advice includes the need for dialogue within a relationship,

Take time, quality time…This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires the self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right

No document will please everyone, and there are some disappointments. On gay marriages, Francis writes,

As for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family

I encourage you to read the full NCR article. It’s long, but the document is even longer…over 200 pages! For those who can, it’s always best to go to the original source, and Pope Francis’s words are a joy to read. If you’re wanting to get to the good bits fast, NCR’s Fr. Thomas Reese suggests you begin at Chapter 4!

I hope to explore the document on this blog in the weeks to come. Please do come by and join in the dialogue!