If you’re like me, you’re captivated by the new pope. Pope Francis has a way of making even the most staunch Protestants consider what the Catholic Church has to say. (But isn’t this is the way it should be? Shouldn’t we be unified as one church?)
I recently read an interview with Pope Francis which, as The Washington Post says, was a “journalistic gold mine.” His candor allowed his heart to be on full display. So here are five things I’ve learned from him, out of so, so many.
1) An appreciation for art
Protestants have a long history of skepticism toward art and icons. Though this can be theoretically and theologically justified, it can also be devastating to creatives and art-lovers alike. In the interview, Pope Francis spoke of his love for the writings of Dostoevsky and for the film ‘La Strada’ by Fellini; he said the music of Mozart “fulfills” him and even “lifts [him] to God!” and that the paintings of Caravaggio “speak” to him.
But his appreciation for art becomes a locale for his Christian spirituality. At the beginning of the interview, when Francis was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” (his name before he took the papal office), he referred to Caravaggio’s famous painting ‘The Calling of St. Matthew,’ explaining how he saw himself as a sinner. Francis said, “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.”
2) A disposition of humility
Pope Francis, in the interview, said he is actually a “really, really undisciplined person” and that it was “crazy” that he was put in a position of authority in his Jesuit province in Argentina at 36. (This makes me feel better about my lack of authority on anything.)
Pope Francis said he also holds discernment as one of the most important spiritual gifts, because he is “always wary of decisions made hastily,” as there will always be uncertainty in every decision. As he said, “I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time. The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong.”
If you were to ask a church leader to describe what kind of qualities a good leader needs to have, I am sure “strong” would be high up on the list. Interestingly, I don’t think Pope Francis would say the same.
3) A need for community
Much has been made of Pope Francis’ decision not to live in the traditional papal apartment. Rather, he chooses to live in a “simple, austere” room. Here is how Francis explained that decision:
“The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.”
If more people in the church chose to live more simply in order to be more connected with people, I have little doubt that the church would become a more hospitable and relevant place.
4) The Church is a ‘field hospital’
Most of the commentary on the interview with Pope Francis has focused on the topics of abortion and homosexuality, but Francis is keen to remind people that the Church is actually much more than these issues. He said,
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
Pope Francis appears to want to get away from the idea that church teaching or doctrine is a “monolith” that needs defending without nuance or development — the church is much bigger than that. Instead, it’s a “field hospital” that must have “the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful.” He explained further,
“It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. … The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”
5) “Consider the person”
For Pope Francis, the person — particularly the poor person – must never be forgotten. His focus on the poor has endeared him to many inside and outside the church, but it has also been the source of some of his most pointed criticisms. Last Sunday, Francis was speaking to an audience in Sardinia (an Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea) about the current unbalanced state of the global financial market. He said, “I find suffering here … It weakens you and robs you of hope. Excuse me if I use strong words, but where there is no work there is no dignity … We don’t want this globalised economic system which does us so much harm. Men and women have to be at the centre (of an economic system) as God wants, not money.”
He went further, “To defend this economic culture, a throwaway culture has been installed. We throw away grandparents, and we throw away young people. We have to say no to his throwaway culture. We want a just system that helps everyone.”
Amen, my fellow Christian Brother.
Flickr photo (cc) by Catholic Church (England and Wales)