Friday, March 29, 2013

Pope Francis ~ Leading by Example

Pope Francis ~ Leading by Example

I grew up in the Catholic Church, literally across the street from the church, rectory, convent and elementary school, at a time that did not preach inclusion and tolerance. Part of my difficulty accepting the dogma of the church was my perception of the chasm between the teachings of the church and the teaching of Jesus.

As a six year old I was taught that anyone who wasn’t Catholic was a heathen and damned to the eternal fires of hell. The nuns indoctrinated children with the belief that we were all sinners at risk of committing mortal sins that only a priest could give absolution for these transgressions. Women were created to get married and have babies to perpetuate the faith. We did, however, pray each day for the starving children in Biafra, although, at the time, I had no concept of starvation or Biafra. I only know that Sister Agnita stood at the waste receptacle in the lunchroom and checked our milk cartons to see if we’d tried to discard any unsavory item, so she could force us to eat it anyway and think of the starving children.  No wonder I still have angst!

But I loved the stories of the saints, particularly St. Francis of Assisi, a man who shunned his family wealth to do good for the poor. And the Jesus of the New Testament was a man who welcome all, young & old, rich & poor, man & women, sinner and saint, tax collector & fisherman, lepers, prostitutes, unwed mothers and thieves. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church, however, seemed more focused on amassing wealth, judging the faithful, excluding those who had different beliefs, and circling the wagons to maintain the status quo. The ruling classes of the Church, in my opinion, were hypocrites and had been such for centuries.

As a child of the 60’s and 70’s I was a conformist comparatively. My rebellion was limited to excessive partying in college; but I also drifted away from the Catholic Church in frustration.   The scandals of recent decades disturbed me further.  Pope John Paul gave me hope. To me Pope Benedict was a throw back that seemed to take the church in the wrong direction.

But the actions of Pope Francis since his selection have given me hope that the church can find, at its heart, the reason for its existence – serving the people. The humility and integrity of this man has had a more profoundly positive effect on the image of the Catholic Church in the last week than any action or encyclical or sermon or press release within the last 50 years. The leader of the Catholic Church went to a detention center for juveniles on the remembrance of the Last Supper, and washed and kissed the feet of young men, women, black, white, Muslim, Christian, those who had taken the wrong turn in the road.  He told them not to lose hope. “With hope you can always go on.”.

His humility, kindness, compassion, honesty and passion for helping those who need it most is the most Christ-like example I’ve seen from any cleric in my lifetime.  This is not to say I do not believe there are truly good and honorable priests, nuns and lay people in the American church. There are good people that live the Christian life by example everyday. But Pope Francis has the eyes of the world as the leader of the Church and he has so far, shown that he is exactly what the Catholic Church needs to refocus on its original mission.  He is putting the actions of Christ back into Christianity.

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