Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Pope in "brown" - Reflections on Year One of the "Franciscan" Papacy

This week, of course, the media is full of reflection on the historic moment that took place on March 13, 2013, a year ago tomorrow, as Jorge Mario Bergoglio stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter's in Vatican City and bowed before the world to ask for our prayers as he began his papacy - this remarkable papacy of Pope Franics. He was, at that moment, a virtual unknown to most of the world - even to most of the Church world.  And, now one day shy of a year later, he is the most famous man in the world.  He has taken the Church and the world by storm.

There have been countless wonderful stories looking back on this incredibly year of Pope Francis and hopeful speculation about the years ahead and what more we can expect.  But, I think it's also helpful for us to take a moment to remember a year ago today or so - another wonderful moment in the Church which was the interregnum between Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis - that incredible moment of expectation.

Pope Francis, by the way, isn't the only one who took the world by storm.  If Pope Francis has stormed the world, just weeks before, on February 28, 2013, Pope Benedict took the world's breath away with the nearly unprecedented news that he would step down from the Chair of Peter; that he would set aside the Petrine ministry and enter into a new service to the Church through a "life dedicated to prayer."  That moment was so new, that all bets were off, opening the door for anything to happen.

So, on this day, a year ago, who were you rooting for?  As the Cardinals entered the Sistine Chapel for another day of Conclave, who did you think would emerge onto that balcony.  I know that I had two hoped-for front runners.  My hopes were on Oscar Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, SDB, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, longtime friend of the poor; and my other prime candidate was a bit closer to home here in Boston, our own Franciscan Sean Patrick Cardinal O'Malley, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Boston.

I even wrote about this on my blog which was picked up by the Jesuit journal America Magazine in a post I called "A Pope in Brown" speculating on what an O'Malley papacy might look like.  Here was some of what I wrote:
"Imagine for a moment what a sign to the Church and to the world, if after those auspicious words are heard ringing out from the balcony of St. Peter's, 'Habemus papam!', 'We have a Pope!'; imagine, as the world waits to see who was elected that, not a man clad uncomfortably in a while outfit that only somewhat fits steps out, but instead a man wearing his simple, worn Franciscan habit stood there instead. Can you imagine what an image and message that would be? Sometimes it is the simplest actions that can change everything. A an unexpected Pope who says, 'Let's call a Council to bring the Fresh Air of the Holy Spirit into the Church.' A Pope who shocks the world by saying, 'I'm 86 years old. I have done what was mine to do. The Church belongs to Christ. It is time for me to resign.' These seemingly simple actions are like a stone dropped on the calm surface of a pond that leave thousands of ripples in their wake. What ripples would be made by a Pope in brown? Not in white. Not wearing Prada. Not draped in gold vestments. Instead in a simple brown habit and sandals and echoing the words of the founder of his Order saying, 'My brothers and sisters, let us begin again.'"
"Imagine the new sense of humility and service that could emanate from a Church whose leader decided to put aside the trappings of royalty and embrace the clothing of a simple, Franciscan friar - as he has done his whole life - and lead from there. Imagine a Pope who smiles and tells jokes and is in his heart a pastor of souls. Imagine what a Pope in brown could do?"
Now, a year later, the Conclave of course didn't choose Cardinal Sean as Pope, but they certainly did choose someone who embodied all that I hoped for. They certainly did choose a man whose heart is the heart of the Holy Man of Assisi himself.  A Pope in a brown habit would have been a wonderful external, but even more we have gotten a Pope who is in his heart-of-hearts connected with the spirit of St. Francis in such a profound way that we are lucky enough to be living in a new Franciscan age; one that invites us into the same profound conversion of life and heart that Il Poverello invited believers into more than eight centuries ago.

A year ago, my heart was full of hope and expectation at what might be.  Today, my heart is full of joy and appreciation for the year that has been and looking forward with excitement to where God may take us together with Him in the days ahead.  Being believers and followers of Christ is exciting and dangerous and wondrous and more amazing than anyone could ever imagine.

Let us pray for Pope Francis and his leadership of our Church and let us ask God to give each of us the same courage, trust and faith to follow the Gospel wherever it may lead.

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