I like following the work of the Pope. Since I am not Roman Catholic, the Pope has no inherent spiritual authority over me, but he does exercise a kind of spiritual authority for all Christians. It would be absurd to say that since I am not Catholic, the Pope does not matter. After all, there are more than one billion Catholics in our world---that means about one out of every six human beings are Catholic! Those are impressive numbers. And to think that one human being has spiritual authority over that group is doubly impressive.
If we wanted a comparison, the best comparison would be the nation of China. That nation also has over one billion in population. And it, too, is governed by a single president, Xi Jinping. Even he does not have the kind of authority that the Pope has. But I am not really interested in the issue of authority---either religious or political. I am actually interested in the person who is elected to this kind of position and, therefore, acquires that kind of authority.
Clearly, the Pope is a very visible figure. People flock to Rome in order to visit the Vatican and catch a glimpse of the Pope. Wherever the Pope travels, thousands of people flock to see him and to be with him. If the Pope speaks or writes something, the world knows it. This is how I follow the papal happenings. I tend to get my papal news from the television news and online reports. If the Pope publishes an encyclical---a document treating some particular subject, I usually download it and read it. So for a non-Catholic, I probably have an above-interest and knowledge of papal things.
I am intrigued by the current Pope, Francis I. It was quite interesting when he was elected Pope that he chose to be named Francis, after the great medieval friar, Francis of Assisi. Perhaps it is because that medieval Francis is one of my favorite historical figures that I am enamored by Pope Francis. I hope he lives more and more into the spirit of those early Franciscans.
I am always on the lookout for interesting papal news. Recently it was reported that Pope Francis “invited believers to always be prepared for surprising ways in which "difficulty" and "sin" can be converted into "new friendship" with God.” Wow, I thought, that is an amazing perspective. This is a very significant sentence and worth unpacking.
First of all, it makes sense that Francis would invite believers to something. I appreciate the language of “invitation.” That is so much more respectful than “obeying” or “ordering” or “commanding.” Invitation suggests a particular kind of understanding of his own authority. Imagine the power of the person who could command you to do something. And instead of command, the person invites you to do something. I think most of us would feel respected, inspired and energized. Let’s look at what the Pope invites us to do.
He asks us always to be prepared. That seems like sage advice. Being prepared is usually preferable to not being prepared. But more than that, we are always to be prepared for surprising ways to become something or somebody new. That is an amazing invitation to preparation. Wow, I think, count me in. I want to be prepared.
Prepared for what? Here comes the power of Pope Francis. We are always to be prepared for the surprising ways difficulty and sin can be converted. That is amazingly good news. Anyway, who wants to sign on for difficulties and sin? Not me! But clearly both difficulties and sin are inevitable. I don’t know any human being who has not experienced both. The good news is they can be converted.
Normally, I don’t really like the language of conversion. But here it is quite compelling. Intriguingly, the Pope suggests that difficulties and sins are not wiped away; they are converted. They are changed from one thing into another. That says a great deal about the way the Spirit works in our midst---converting lousy things into lovely things.
The lovely thing into which difficulty and sin are converted is new friendship with God. Wow, I think; that is wonderful. From the mess of difficulty and sin comes the miracle of friendship. Who does not want to hear and believe this good news? Who does not want to have our messes converted into miracles? That is good news. I believe.
I am quite fine with this good news coming from the Pope. It seems true to me, not because the Pope suggests that it is true. It seems true to me because it is grounded in my experience of the working of the Holy One in my life and in the world. I suspect that is why the Pope also knows it is true. It is true to our experience, not because the Pope says it. The fact that the Pope says it gives it credibility and weight.
I like Pope Francis. I appreciate his papal insight. I would like to think that both of us are news friends of the Divine One. And there must be a whole host of other friends, too.