I found out about the election of Pope Benedict while I was driving in the car listening to MPR on the radio; I found out about the election of Pope Francis when my wife, Amy (a Catholic) sent me a text that I received on my I-Phone. The world is changing and this new Pope has the responsibility of taking the gospel and the teachings of the Catholic Church into such a world.
We Protestants have always had an ambivalent relationship with the Pope. I admire a church which has an elected leader who is responsible for making decisions. Anyone who has attended many Presbyterian meetings knows that our belief in the work of committees often muddles and slows down our process. When I see the lack of focus that Presbyterians and other Protestants often have I long to see a person take charge. Imagine Congress operating without an Executive branch and a limited judicial branch—that is how Presbyterians operate. Of course, an Executive operating without a legislative branch can lead to all sorts of problems too. We Protestants are skeptical of authoritarian leaders—so we have thrown our lot in with committees.
I was touched that Cardinal Bergoglio chose to be named Pope Franics. The name selection is encouraging. Francis was a priest who took a vow of poverty which his order of the Franciscans have always followed. Their care for the earth is admirable. My first Spiritual Director was a Franciscan nun who was always interested in what was happening to creation. That Pope Francis is a Jesuit is even more intriguing. I have always found Jesuit priests to be highly skilled academics. It’s wonderful to dream of a Pope who is looks at the earth with a proper balance of head, heart, and feet. I’m pleased that in his first Mass this morning Pope Francis lifted up themes of care for the poor and ecumenism.
The day after I received the text from Amy, I wrote on my Facebook page “Congratulations to Pope Francis. My prayers to him and all our Catholic friends! Let's continue to follow the Spirit in creating a powerful church for the world!” I hope that Pope Francis can help lead the church towards experiencing the desire of unity that Jesus expressed in John 17. Our ability to be unified as one church (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and non-denomination) will be a significant reason that people outside the church enter into our doors. We don’t need to be one denomination, but we do need to lower our walls and grab hands together.
This Presbyterian prays and hopes for a vibrant Catholic witness in the world. The battles of the Reformation might still ricochet in some areas, but not with me. My Catholic brothers and sisters hold beliefs which I don’t, but there is always more that brings us together. Hopefully Pope Francis can lead us deeper into this unity. His care for the poor, other religions and denominations, and the earth are a good place to start.