Pope Francis was recently named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, a choice that I think was spot on. When Pope Benedict vacated the papacy, I don’t think any of us expected what has come to a realization in Pope Francis: a Pope that looks a heck of a lot more like Jesus than any predecessor in collective memory.
Never in my life did I imagine that I would connect so deeply with a Pope. I grew up (and still live) in an area that is deeply anti-catholic. I still remember sitting in a sixth grade Sunday school class in the basement of my church, and hearing the teacher say: “The Catholic church is controlled by Satan himself.” Even now, anti-catholic sentiments run high, with some protestant Christians in my context rejecting the historic creeds of the church, simply because of the line: “the one holy catholic apostolic Church”. (The fact that it doesn’t mean what they think it means is no matter— anything that even hints of Roman Catholic is often rejected without regard to the merits in many protestant contexts).
In high school I went on a few different mission trips over seas, and one of my clearest memories was leadership telling us of the possibility of preaching in a Roman Catholic church– but to pray, because Satan would want to keep us out of his church.
Obviously, I came out of that culture– and today, I love my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters and am appreciative for their contributions to the Christian faith. In addition to being a wonderful leader for Roman Catholics, Pope Francis is also quickly becoming a beloved figure among Jesus followers in other traditions. For me, it is for these ten reasons:
10. He understands that social justice is at the heart of the Christian Gospel, and conservatives hate him for it.
As Jesus says in Matthew 23:23, justice and mercy are the “more important” parts of the law– and Pope Francis gets this. From the first moments of his papacy, Pope Francis has been a Pope of the poor– a heart for the poor that revealed itself immediately, even in the selection of the name Francis. Being an example of the radical message of Jesus, Francis is obviously now on the outs with hard-line conservatives. Rush Limbaugh has even been on the attack, and is now claiming that Time selected the Pope as the Person of the Year, simply to get back at him:
“The media is beside itself,” he said. “They don’t know what to do– they’re conflicted…. The media’s jealousy, envy, hatred for me has driven them into the arms of the Pope!”
Well, any enemy of Rush Limbaugh is a friend of mine.
9. He calls “unfettered capitalism” a “new tyranny“.
And, it is. There’s nothing godly about the results of economic systems which oppress the poor, and the Pope gets that. The rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer doesn’t line up with the way of Jesus– in his first sermon, he said that he had come to bring “good news to the poor”, but unfettered capitalism is clearly very, very bad news for the poor. In line with Jesus’ teachings, the Pope has criticized the disparity of wealth in the modern world. If you have six minutes to spare, this video will rock your worldview on just how unjust income distribution in our country really is:
8. He sneaks out at night to serve the homeless.
As reported by the Huffington Post:
“Swiss guards confirmed that the pope has ventured out at night, dressed as a regular priest, to meet with homeless men and women.”
Remember that Jesus guy? He was homeless too. The fact that the Pope sneaks out at night to minister to the homeless shows that the Pope isn’t just the head of the Church, but that he’s actually a Jesus follower– something that’s quite different from being a Christian.
7. He has embraced biblical modesty in a way unlike his predecessors.
Pope Francis typically dresses modestly in white instead of over-the-top religious garb, and prefers a Ford Focus instead of the traditional Mercedes of other popes. Whereas Pope Benedict dressed a bit more like Santa, Pope Francis is usually found dressing as plain as can be. This is what modesty is all about, and it’s a great example.
6. He says that we shouldn’t judge our LGBT brothers and sisters.
As Pope Francis said not long ago:
“Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?…You can’t marginalize these people.”
To which I say, exactly. Who am I to judge someone who is seeking God? It’s my role as a Jesus follower to facilitate that connection to God, not to hinder it. My hope is that as Jesus followers we will become people who remove barriers that people have to connecting to God instead of erecting new ones.
5. He embraces those who otherwise, probably aren’t embraced.
Jesus was the guy who touched the untouchables— and so is Pope Francis. A picture is worth 1000 words on this point.
4. He spent Holy Thursday last year washing the feet of juvenile offenders at a detention facility.
My wife and I have long had a heart for kids in juvenile detention. In previous careers both she and I worked with this population and have been long time financial backers of Straight Ahead Ministries here in New England which is a ministry to kids in lock-up. What’s even cooler, is that he washed the feet of women as well– something no Pope had ever done before. This is a good lesson even for those of us who are passionate about justice– we often remember the poor and hungry, but forget that one of the people groups Jesus commanded us to care for were prisoners (see Matthew 25). We must not forget this population, and Pope Francis reminds us of this by way of example.
Immigrants, especially those who are undocumented, are perhaps one of the most marginalized people groups in our country. Even among conservative Christians, anti-immigrant sentiments are not only accepted but almost encouraged. It is apparently easy to forget that scripture is actually quite clear on how the people of God are called to treat immigrants. Anyone who claims to love God, but marginalizes immigrants, is a liar. The Pope’s example reminds us that we must speak up for this group of people.
“Do not mistreat or oppress an immigrant, for you were immigrants…” Ex. 22:21
“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 19:33-34
2. He gets what Jesus meant when he said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
During Jesus’ ministry, children tried to come to him but the disciples attempted to shoo them away– something Jesus pushed back against. This is exactly what the Pope did in a now famous scene– perhaps my favorite moment of his papacy, because this is what Jesus looked like:
1. He lives in an guest house instead of a palace.
Seriously– the guy could live in a palace but decides to stay in a guest house instead. Not only that, but he pays for his room himself. I can’t think of anything that would be more Jesus-like. As we approach Christmas next week, we are reminded that Jesus gave up his heavenly throne to pitch his tent here– becoming “God with us”. The Pope’s example in this area serves as a living illustration of the night when Christ stripped himself of all the splendor that was entitled to him, and simply became like us.
Yes, I am falling in love with Pope Francis. I never imagined that I would find myself connecting with a Pope, and even cheering him on, but this is where I have found myself. While I obviously don’t agree with everything he believes (if I did, I’d be Roman Catholic, which I am not) I have certainly developed an affection for the man and the type of papacy he is establishing. And, I know that so many of the rest of you feel this way too– Pope Francis has become crazy popular with Christians across the board, except for the hard-core conservative flavor.
So the question becomes: what are the reasons that you are unexpectedly finding yourself connecting with Pope Francis? What else should have made this list? Did it surprise you to find yourself cheering on a pope? Let’s continue the discussion down below!