By now you've certainly heard that we have a Pope, Francis. Many of you have been asking my thoughts about the new Bishop of Rome. Yesterday being a busy day I didn't really have anything to offer, but now I might.
First, it really doesn't matter what I think one way or the other. Whether I approve of his election or not does not change the fact that he is the Supreme Pontiff and that we owe to him a filial devotion and obedience and we should remember him in our prayers each day. We should all remember this.
Second, I don't really know anything Pope Francis' background except what I've been able to read since yesterday afternoon. John Allen's piece on him seems to be the best I've read so far.
Third, many are, I think, over exaggerating the displays of his personal humility by stressing such things as his "shunning" - not my word - of some of the papal regalia (at least for the time being). In time he may began to use more of the symbols of his office, or he may not; we do not know. All of this can be a sign of his own humility but this does not mean - as many seem to be suggesting - the wearing of the full pontificals indicates a lack of humility. Anyone who has met His Holiness Benedict XVI - who made frequent use of the full papal vesture - knows him to be a man of genuine humility. I do hope Pope Francis will follow the example of Pope Benedict XVI, but he must be his own man.
In this regard, I often think of the words of Pope Saint Pius X who hated the regalia of his used but made use of it nevertheless. To one friend he wrote: "Look how they have dressed me up." To another, he wrote, "It is certainly a penance to be forced to accept all these practices. They lead me about surrounded by soldiers like Jesus when he was seized in Gethsemane." To dislike the trappings so much and still to wear them, that shows no less humility than not wearing the trappings; to my mind, it demonstrates a greater humility. There are times when each of us has to do things we would rather not do simply because they fitting.
To be sure, I do not write the above as a judgment of Pope Francis, nor do I condmen him; please don't take it as such. He must do what he feels is best. On this matter there can be a cordial disagreement that need not lessen unity.
Fourth, what immediately struck me as he walked out on the loggia to greet the world was the look on his face. He seemed to desire to be anywhere else in the world. He look stunned and terrified, really.
He did not wave. He did not smile. He simply stood there.
When he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Beunos Aires, he took as his episcopal motto miserando atque eligendo ("lowly and yet chosen"). As he stood motionless on the balcony looking out upon the faithful the sincerity of these words was most evident. He knows himself to be unworthy of so lofty an office and for this reason I think he will be a fine Universal Pastor.
But when the time came for him to smile and to speak to the people, both his smile and his words were genuine and from the heart.
He is, it seems, a quiet man who would rather fade away into the background; his new office will not really allow him to do that. I am glad he said accepto and hope the Lord will give him many consolations in the days and years to come.
Fifth, his name. For years now people have asked me what name I would choose when I am elected Pope. Confident that this will never happen, I have always said I would choose to be called Pope Francis (meaning the First). Now I suppose I will not be able to do that.
Longtime readers of this blog will now of my deep love for and devotion to Saint Francis of Assisi and the Pope's choosing of this name is fitting occassion for me to resume what was once a daily feature on this blog: Ponderables from the Poverello, daily quotes from Saint Francis.
I hope that Pope Francis will lead people to learn more about the Poverello and to discover the animal-loving gentle hippy image is far from the reality (Emily Stimpson has a good post on this).
From yesterday forward, we will no longer be able to speak of "our Holy Father Francis" with reference simply to the thirteenth Saint who renounced his father's wealth to embrace Lady Poverty and the Cross; now, we will have to be specific: Do we mean the man from Assisi or the man who is the Successor of Saint Peter? Things could be tricky for a while in Franciscan circles.
To His Holiness Pope Francis, I pledge my willing obedience and filial devotion, and I promise a remembrance in my prayers.