A Jesuit pope who takes the name of St. Francis. The soldier of Christ meets the gentle servant who asked the Lord to make him “a channel for peace.”
Habemus Papam, we have a pope. And a gentle warrior for the church is born.
As I watched the former Jorge Bergoglio at the red-draped balcony, at least two things occurred to me: He was humble and resolute.
In some ways, Francis appears to be a synthesis of his two immediate predecessors, the charismatic soldier John Paul II and the unassuming, contemplative Benedict XVI.
This, I think, is what we need now, even as we struggle to understand which road will take us to the redemptive glory that we deserve as both a church and a people.
I have grown up around Jesuits, admire their fierce intelligence and independent spirits. They scare me to some degree, because they are so independent. These were the men who ventured farthest from Europe into the dark reaches of the New World to preach the word of God.
Many were martyred by savages — no political correctness here; they were savages — but temples were built on their sacrifice. There are many places in South America, native continent of our new pope, that bear the name Loyola after the Jesuit founder St. Ignatius. They are unpredictable, like the Berrigan brothers, who were involved in war protests in the ’60s; brilliant like the teachers at St. Joe’s Prep, where my brothers learned to be men.
The church is strengthened, and challenged, by them.
But we Catholics are also called to be peacemakers, lovers and pilgrims for a just and compassionate world. St. Francis of Assisi walked barefoot, carried no sword like his brother Ignatius, communed with nature and made a simple prayer to God:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
These two separate identities of our new leader are the twin aspects of our faith. We are called to be strong and yet humble, passionate and yet calm, steadfast in our faith but accommodating of human weakness. It’s not easy to bridge the divide between the spiritual and the terrestrial worlds, and we are called to live in both. We often fail, and sometimes fail spectacularly.
But there is something beautiful in this church that transcends the picayune desires of the special-interest groups. As Catholic author George Weigel writes, my church does not “completely cave in to the cult of the imperial autonomous Self, the ideology of Gender and the notion that nothing is simply given in the human condition.”
So those who are hoping for a female priesthood would perhaps hope that the Jesuit part of the new pope will lead him to fight for revolutionary change. It probably won’t happen in our lifetimes.
And those who think that there will be a withdrawal from the public sphere, a quieting down of our public voices and a retreat to the contemplative nature of St. Francis are also probably wrong. That separation of church and state so beloved of American Catholics will not amount to a muting of God’s message. It will be loud, and get louder.
A Jesuit is taught to be of the world, to go out and to change it. St. Francis was a man who looked inward and found grace in simple, intangible things. If, as I hope, both of these aspects are reflected in our new pope, this will be an exciting time for Catholics all over the world.
There is something special in the fact that this is the first non-European pope since the Middle Ages, a man who can speak in his native language to a part of the world that has always embraced the Catholic message and is filled with increasingly vibrant Catholics.
There is something moving in the fact that he was picked on only the second day of deliberations, a man who garnered the support and affection of vastly different men with vastly different experiences and personalities.
In the moments after John Paul II was chosen to lead a fractured family in 1978, none of us could know how truly great he would turn out to be.
In the days after Benedict XVI took over the mantle, in the sad shadow of his predecessor’s death, none of us expected a papacy of such richness and truly loving service.
None of us now knows what the papacy of Francis holds for we anticipatory billions.
But a Jesuit named Francis gives us hope for great things.