Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papam Franciscum


It is always risky to use a Latin title.  On one hand, it looks stupid because no one today understands or uses Latin except for a bunch of old Catholic guys in obscure places like Catholic seminaries, monasteries and in Rome.  On the other hand, it could look pompous to suggest that I know Latin and, therefore, know something special.  Certainly this is not the case.
           
I do know some Latin, although the older I get, the more rusty it becomes!  I like knowing some foreign languages.  By and large, Americans tend not to know foreign languages—which can be our own form of arrogance.  I like Latin because it is a universal language.  It is the universal language of the Roman Catholic Church---all 1.2 billion of those Catholics!  Obviously not all the billion+ Catholics know Latin.  But they are part of an amazingly large group who do have a “common language” known as Roman Catholicism.
           
I am not Catholic, although I do consider myself one who lives at the fringe of the Catholic Church.  I have been watching with sincere interest the process of choosing a new leader---a new pope.  Every time there is a leadership transition, it gives an institution a fresh start.  This is the case with the Catholic Church.  Any institution as old as the Roman Church welcomes another opportunity to freshen itself.  We are early in a new century and, like so many times before, this century will be a challenge for the Church.  This is true for all churches, not only the Roman Catholic Church.  It is probably true for other faith traditions, like Judaism, but today’s message needs to have a sharper focus on the Catholic Church.
           
Yesterday I was delighted and excited when I saw the white smoke, which signaled the choice of the new pope.  Soon the announcement was made: there was a new pope.  And then came the drama of the introduction: Habemus Papam Franciscan.  Because I know Latin, I gasped.  At first, I did not think I heard it correctly.  The first two words---habemus papam---mean, “we have a pope.  I did not get the fact that the new pope had chosen the name, Francis.  That had never happened.  At first blush, I thought they had chosen a Franciscan.  I gasped again because the Archbishop of Boston, Sean O’Malley, is a Franciscan.  He was my favorite, partly because he is Franciscan. 
           
But alas, it was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires---the new Pope Francis.  The impact began to hit me.  A Latin Church leader had been chosen.  He is the first American---a South American---to be chosen.  He also opted to be named after my favorite saint---Saint Francis, the Italian thirteenth century friar.  St. Francis is the “bird lover,” with whom kids identify.  He is the “nature saint,” as I like to think.  More importantly, St. Francis abandoned the world’s ways to pursue a life devoted to serving others.
           
St. Francis is best known for his life of simplicity and poverty.  It is this which makes him a favorite among my own Quaker group.  We, too, give attention to simplicity.  Simplicity is an exceedingly important message to deliver and to live in a world increasingly fractured by the rich-poor divide.  And that a new pope from a developing world would choose this name and this Franciscan symbolism, I find exciting.
           
As I began to absorb the news, I realized something significant was happening.  Not only did the Roman Cardinal Conclave choose a new leader for the Roman Catholic Church.  In fact, they chose a new world leader for all of Christianity.  And perhaps, they have chosen a new leader for all the faithful in the world---Christian or not.  Habemus Papam Franciscum---we have a new pope, Francis.  May he imbibe the spirit of St. Francis and, then, imbue the Church and the world with that selfsame spirit.
           
I truly hope he continues his ways.  When he was chosen Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he did not live in the fancy quarters.  He had an apartment.  He cooked his own food.  He rode the bus instead of taking the car with the chauffer.  I want him to be so powerfully filled with the Spirit that when it is over, he also will be St. Francis!
           
I truly hope that all of us---Catholic and non-Catholic---can follow his leadership.  Let us work for social justice.  Enable us to care and to share with all those in need and the needy.  Give us the courage to include, instead of exclude. 
           
I realized yesterday that I felt included in the announcement.  Habemus---we have.  I want to be one of the “we.”  It is first person plural.  Certainly Catholics have a new pope.  But we all do.  Now it is the time in faith and humility to begin the work---the Kingdom work.  Count me in.

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