As promised, here are my thoughts on the new pope! First off, let me explain why I care. I’m Missouri Synod Lutheran, not Catholic. We do actually have a president of our own, but he’s much lower profile (I’m fairly religious, and I still don’t know who he is. Although he did make it into the papers a couple months ago for forcing an LCMS pastor to apologize for participating in an interfaith service after Sandy Hook. I get where he was coming from, but really?!) Anyway, I look to the pope as sort of a defender of the Christian faith. My Lutheranism makes me skeptical of giving one man that much power, but my quarrel is with the papal office itself, not the man who fills it.
His selection of the name Francis is an excellent sign, I think. With connections to both St. Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier, this signifies a commitment to simplicity, humility, and outreach, all of which appear to have been integral to his Argentine ministry. And the novelty of choosing a name no pope has ever borne hopefully indicates that he will be willing to clean up the corruption in the Church and finally take decisive action to deal with the sexual abuse crisis by showing compassion for the abuse victims and bringing justice on the pedophile priests.
Now onto my qualms:
I’d like to know more about what he did during Argentina’s “Dirty War.” I’ve heard claims that he cooperated with the military dictatorship as well as that he worked to protect those the regime targeted. I don’t know which is correct, so I’m withholding judgement on this area. I’ll assume he’s innocent until proven guilty, but I’ll be watching as more information comes to light.
Also, I find his comments on women and gay marriage disturbing. His quote about how women are inherently unsuited to political office creates a disturbing precedent. I’m not denying men and women are different, but saying that one gender as a whole is unsuited to a particular profession seems wrong. Where does it end? Does the fact that I’m a woman make me worse at computer science? Or does me being a computer science major somehow make me “less of a woman”? As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, this comment particularly disturbed me.
As for the gay marriage comment, that was also disturbing. I don’t think anyone seriously expected him to break with the Catholic Church’s historical condemnation of homosexuality. However, I believe that gay people should be allowed to legally marry. I believe it’s a civil right. If the Church wants to forbid holding Church weddings for gay people, no one can stop them. I would agree that there’s a difference between religious marriage and civil marriage. But Francis seems to have conflated the roles of the two, which doesn’t seem to respect the separation of church and state (which Argentina also has, for those who aren’t familiar with Latin American politics).
In conclusion, I’m slightly wary about Pope Francis’ election. I believe he’s a sincere Christian who will do his best to spread the Gospel and promote social justice for the poor. At the same time, I would like more information about his actions during Argentina’s Dirty War, as well as what exactly he believes about women and gay people. Although I am somewhat apprehensive (and missing Benedict a little) I believe all of us who are Christians should pray for him, that God may give him the strength and wisdom to carry out his new role.
Yesterday evening, I was reading Corrie ten Boom’s memoir The Hiding Place. For those of you who are unfamiliar with her, she was a Dutch woman who hid Jews during the Holocaust, and consequently was later interned in a concentration camp along with her sister. As I was reading, I was struck by how passionate they were about the Gospel. It made me realize that I’ve never been that passionate about my faith. She and her sister even gave thanks for the crowded conditions in the camp because it made it easier to share their beliefs!
What also struck me was not only how in love they were with God, but also how God was able to use them. Even in the concentration camp, they strove to love others both through their words and their deeds. Corrie went so far as to carry bedpans around to the other hospital patients when she herself was sick, because there was no one else to do it! After Corrie was released (her sister Betsie died in the camp), she traveled the world, sharing her story and the Gospel with many, many people. She could have been bitter after all she’d been through, but she chose to spread God’s love and forgiveness with others, even one of her former guards at the concentration camp!
It made me realize just how radical God’s love and forgiveness are, if it enabled Corrie to forgive one of the concentration camp guards who had mistreated her sister. Rationally, it would have made sense for her to hold a grudge for the rest of her life. However, her forgiveness enabled both her and the guard to move forward with their lives in emotional freedom. It made me realize that sin really is bondage, and what a great gift Jesus’ death was for us.
Also, I loved her comment that the safest place in the world is the center of God’s will. Although she did some very impressive things, she was careful to emphasize that it was God working through her, not her own power. It reminded me of the words of the Apostle Paul, in the verse in Philippians that says “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” and another verse in 2nd Corinthians “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Because she was obeying God’s will, she was given the strength to do these things, even though she was only (in her own words) “a plain spinster watchmaker in her 50s.”
What would the world look like if every Christian tried to really live out their faith? If we tried to love everyone, even if they’re very different from us, remembering that we are all made “in the image of God”? After all, we are commanded to love one another, just as Christ loved us. Obviously, this is impossible to do on our own, but it IS possible if we remember that we are the branches and He is the Vine, and allow His love to flow through us.