What is it? Can you figure it out? It’s undeniably there! Oh, sorry, but those are the thoughts that run through my head any time I witness Francis engage his people. A few days ago he actually participated in a TV interview and talked (via video link) with real people here in these United States. It was there again, it’s always there, that unnameable something. As usual, his demeanor, tone of voice, thoughtfulness, humbleness and authority make me think. Sometimes it hurts my head. Let’s look at this logically. Francis is just a guy like any guy, like you and me. In view of his upcoming trip to the U.S. it is also clear that he worries, like any of us. His lack of English was on his mind. So, he has worked hard to learn English and even hired a tutor to help him. He was careful to speak his opening remarks in English. He then answered most of the questions in Spanish with a little English sprinkled in.
As the interview progressed, there were things that just made you feel warm and fuzzy, literally! The people who were selected to engage with him were all people with a story. These were ordinary people who managed in the face of all odds. Of course, that’s what makes for good TV. No moguls were on the slate, no people of political or financial influence. First of all, it was quite obvious that as he addressed each person his physical demeanor actually changed. You could see him “light up” as he began speaking, and his face was aglow each time. Next, in his consideration of each question he was particular to point out some good or triumph for each person, even those who were in the midst of really rough circumstances. Finally, he was careful to point out the kernel of hope in each case. Watching the whole thing just made you feel good. There was no hint of patronizing as he zoned in, laser like, to each person as if they were the only one in the room. He is currently beloved across the world. People of all faiths state how much they like/love him. He receives standing ovations wherever he goes and audiences at the Vatican have tripled since his pontificate began. So, what is it?
Clearly the attraction here is the fact that Francis is so much like Jesus! He is loving, caring, could care less about power and influence and plainly expresses love, dignity and affection for anyone he encounters. It doesn’t matter if it’s one or one million. These are all the qualities that Jesus was beloved for and practiced which made the crowds follow him and want to be near him relentlessly. It’s rather easy to believe that because he has been conferred Pope that he comes by these qualities in a kind of magical way. He’s Pope after all, shouldn’t he be just like Jesus? Not exactly, we have had hundreds of popes and not all of them were crowd pleasers like Frances.
Whether the Pope comes by these amazing qualities by virtue of his office, though, is not the lesson here. If you have followed Him at all, you might have noticed that his Christ-like behavior is always the result of a choice he has made; not to live at the Vatican, to be in community with other priests at Doma Santa Marta, not to wear the richest garments, not to transport by chauffeured limousine, to share meals in community, to reach out to crowds and people as he sees a need, to welcome children even in the middle of a solemn ceremony, to pay his own bill, to carry his own bag, and even to put on a clown nose for a charitable cause. As Pope it would be easy for him to avoid all of these and live undisturbed in relative comfort. But that’s not what he chooses, and that really is the point of his pontificate.
Long ago the profit Isaiah described the responsibilities of the people of God and how they are to function in the world:
“[The Lord] has sent (us) to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, To announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn.” (Is 61:1-2)
Francis is doing nothing more than “following directions”. As believers, these are the actions that God expects from each one of us. As we witness the living example of a faith filled leader, what choices have you made? Do you tell yourself these are nice things but I couldn’t do those? Why not? Could you choose to be humble instead of prideful, could you choose to encourage rather than discourage, could you choose to help someone less fortunate, could you choose to give a positive word rather than negative, could you choose to be patient rather than curt, could you choose to make money and things less important in your life? Are any of these things talents that it takes a special education to learn? No! Are any of these things beyond any ones’ reach to do? No! So, what’s your excuse for not exercising these graces and making some of the same choices as the Holy Father?
Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved, Kathryn M. Cunningham