The world waited anxiously, like the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, as the curtain on the balcony ruffled and Cardinal Tauran walked out to pronounce, “Habemus Papam” — “We have a pope.” U.S. news correspondents, clearly outsiders at the scene, struggled to hear the name of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Through Italian colleagues they learned that the new pope had chosen the name Francis, connecting himself to the medieval saint whose life of self-sacrifice and care of the poor inspired reform in the church. Hope arose in the hearts of those who recognize that the days of a triumphalist church are over, and there is hope for leadership that is open to the needs and opportunities of this day, not yesteryear. If only he can walk in the footsteps of St. Francis to lead the Church of Rome!
As the new pope asked for prayer, a few facts about him had already begun to emerge: Pope Francis is a Jesuit. He was a runner-up in the 2005 conclave. He has lived his entire life in Argentina. Even as a cardinal, he preferred to ride the bus, cooks his own food, and live simply — as “a regular guy.” The man’s legacy demonstrates genuine humility in his personal daily life and in his affections, an unassuming nature, a friend of drug-addicts and an advocate of the poor.
Then, notice must be taken of the criticism leveled at him for certain political involvements and the appearance to some that he was not sufficiently active as an advocate for justice, especially for “the disappeared” during the “Dirty War.” And it must be acknowledged, that while his personal piety and his concern for the poor would suggest a new emphasis on social justice, the choice of Bergoglio as pope was in many ways a very conventional one, especially for protection of conservative doctrinal positions of controversy today — like contraception, abortion, the ordination of women, and LGBT realities — that seem to trump social and economic concerns. As the world gets to know the man who will serve as the uppermost religious authority to more than a billion Catholics, spiritual leaders and laypeople around the world are already adjusting their hopes, prayers, and expectations for the papacy.
Thomas Cahill has established himself as a lay theologian and one of our most perceptive observers of historical patterns. We are pleased that he is an advisor and a frequent contributor to At the Threshold. A few short days ago, while the election was pending, The Wall Street Journal asked him to give them a short piece on the sort of man the new pope should be. He reports, “…Once they saw what I had written, they refused to print it. Though they gave no reason, I’m sure my piece offended their vulture capitalism. Whether the new pope will fulfill my requirements for him, only time will tell.”
We are pleased to offer you his thoughts.
The Next Pope
By Thomas Cahill, author of the Hinges of History, including How the Irish Saved Civilization (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), and Pope John XXIII (Penguin)
The next pope should be a Christian, that is, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. Most popes have not been that, especially over the past millennium and more. Indeed, the idea of a Christian pope takes us so far from the historical norm that we must completely replace the images in our head with startling new pictures.
A real Christian would not wear special clothes nor would he live in a palace. Jesus had neither bank account nor art collection. He didn’t even have a home to call his own, for as he said to one inquiring contemporary, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). “The Son of Man” was Jesus’s usual description of himself. It was not intended as an exalted description nor even as a special designation. A better translation might be “Humanity’s Child,” in other words, a plain human being. The new pope would live among the poor, as Jesus did, perhaps even be homeless on occasion.
The new pope would not enjoy being addressed by special titles, nor would he wish to be called “pope” (or “papa”). Gregory the Great, elected bishop of Rome toward the end of the sixth century, was one of the few truly great popes. He refused to be called “pope,” saying “Away with these words that increase vanity and weaken love!” A bishop, insisted Gregory, should be ever “a minister, not a master,” who tries “to subdue himself, not his brothers and sisters.” The only title Gregory would accept was “Servant of God’s Servants.” (more…)