Following the Light is a series of blogs that point to the brights spots where I see renewal and rebirth in the world of religion and spirituality. The series will continue through the Christian season of Epiphany.
TIME’s Person of the Year. Esquire’s Best Dressed Man. Dubious honors for any person, much less the Supreme Pontiff of Rome. Espousing a message of reconciliation and redemption while projecting a humble image, Pope Francis I has (perhaps ironically), become a rockstar.
He’s not a rockstar with closets full of clothes and lavish homes. Well … he could wear closets of fancy clothes, though he rejected the red Prada shoes, custom rings, gold crosses and furs typical of the pontiff, wearing instead simple papal white and the iron cross he’s been wearing since becoming bishop in Buenos Aries. He could live in the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace, but instead has chosen to live in the simpler guesthouse, where other Vatican staff and their guests stay. He does, however, have throngs of people following his every move, including 3.5+ million followers on Twitter and young people vying to take selfies with him in St. Peter’s Square.
His clothing and housing choices are only the beginning. He shocked the world when he was seen washing the feet of juvenile prisoners, including two women, some of them from different faith backgrounds. When asked about gay men in the priesthood, he reportedly says, “Who am I to judge?” He riled pundits when he decried how “trickle down economics” negatively impacts the poor. He called upon the church to offer compassion and forgiveness, rather than judgement, to women who have had abortions in the past.
Critics, scholars and journalists have been quick to point out that this Pope has not departed at all from Catholic doctrine. He has not changed any position on hot-button issues such as abortion, contraception, gay marriage or women’s ordination. Nor has he changed the church’s positions about helping the poor, living peace rather than war and offering love and forgiveness to neighbors and enemies alike.
Perhaps the power of what he is doing is that he is not making any doctrinal changes, but rather pointing out where the church could have been more faithful all along — loving enemies, caring for the poor and challenging economic and political systems that create violence, poverty and oppression. Perhaps he is showing the world that faith is not about issues or ideologies, but rather about the compassion and thoughtfulness with which we approach the circumstances surrounding the issues. Perhaps, he is showing the world that Catholics (and perhaps all Christians), can and should wear more humble clothes, living a faith that includes more love and forgiveness rather than indifference, disconnection and judgement.
And, he’s become a rock star for it. If this isn’t a sign that people (Catholic or not) are hungry for the Christian gospel of peace, love, mercy and hope, I don’t know what is.
How is this Pope’s message inspired YOU?