28 March 2013

Simon and Francis

Source: The Stations of the Cross of Nonviolent Love

For many years I've been reading this booklet by (Rev.) Emmanuel Charles McCarthy annually just before Easter, but this year I've been especially struck by Simon's station.

I think the reason is Pope Francis. In the early days of his service as pope, he has been helping me carry my own little cross. I need this help and I hope he will keep it up.

The specific help I need is my ongoing struggle with cynicism. I've documented this struggle here on my blog several times. In my head, I know that cynicism is spiritual poison; and in my heart, I also know that I was born an optimist; that my natural inclination is to expect something better.

I also understand that for optimism to have integrity, it must be maintained in the face of all evidence to the contrary. My sunny disposition can't come at the cost of ignoring human suffering. It can't be based on happy accidents such as not being in Hiroshima or Cambodia or Anne Frank's annex at the wrong time.

Just before I became a Christian, I was losing that struggle. But since that day in 1974, my allies in the search for balance have been my brothers and sisters in the Christian movement. When I was down, they lifted me up--sometimes in very practical ways, such as the time I got financial help from Ottawa Friends and my colleagues at the Anglican Book Society at a truly low point. When I've been up, I've done my best to return the favor. I can't remember a single instance where I've been a hero, but I hope I've managed to be a Simon-like helper more than once. In any case, I've certainly not yet achieved a complete victory over cynicism.

Not being a Roman Catholic, I don't see Pope Francis as a formal authority over me, but in the body of Christ, I do recognize that he is a brother, and in addition, a leader. When he confesses that he yearns for "a poor church for the poor," I experience his words as a direct affirmation of my ideals, to which I cling despite evidence that much of the church industry is self-absorbed and very far from this kind of downward mobility. My own Moscow Friends Meeting seems to be destined, at least in the short term, to live in uncertainty about its own premises and its reduced attendance, but has a new vision for service--this at least is a good direction!

I like another thing that Francis said. According to the National Catholic Reporter,

Standing behind a lectern from a raised red carpet platform and looking out from St. Peter's Basilica for the homily during the [inaugural] Mass, Francis acknowledged he is the 265th successor of Peter, which he said "involves a certain power" given by Christ to Peter.

"But what sort of power was it?" the new pope asked, looking up from his prepared remarks at the crowd in front of him.

"Let us never forget that authentic power is service," Francis continued after a pause. "The pope, too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service, which has its radiant culmination on the cross."

The pope, Francis continued, "must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked St. Joseph."

"Like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God's people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important," he said. "Only those who serve with love are able to protect."

If he persists in this approach to leadership, he will surely have a huge ministry to all who want to orient (or re-orient) the church for service. And as I said in my response to Margaret Benefiel's Facebook essay on Francis and leadership, he may also have a key ministry to other world leaders:

It's a mysterious and (hopefully) fertile anomaly that the titular head of a Christian confession automatically becomes a world leader, entitled to visibility and influence in an otherwise severely secular and often ruthlessly pragmatic circle. By design, Providence, or both, John Paul II became a hugely important figure on the global stage in his own time. He created and exploited disequilibrium in Eastern Europe on a mass scale. What I hope for Francis is that he will create and exploit disequilibrium in a more specific realm: the "world leaders" themselves, in how they envision leadership, the image of leader, the "God-bearing" quality inherent in spiritually grounded leadership. By helping them, consciously or unconsciously, "confront the gap between their espoused values and lived values," he might help accomplish a shift that is just as important as adoption of this or that policy.
If he persists, I say. Maybe spiritual protection and the ability to persist are prayer concerns for us, his brothers and sisters in Christ, to adopt as part of our "Simon-like" service to him.

Judging by the "most popular" sidebar on this screen shot of BBC's news site two days ago,  I'm not the only one who finds Francis empowering--or at least intriguing. The article about his decision to remain, for the time being, in his "modest" two-room apartment was the most-read article on the BBC site--and also the most shared.

From openDemocracy's Russia pages, more on idealism and cynicism: Banderlogs and network hamsters and is culture the new politics? In the meantime, "More Inspections Hit Rights NGOs in Russia." (Also note this item: "...by singling out Russia for censure, the U.S. opens itself up to well-grounded charges of hypocrisy....")

Margaret Benefiel's essay on Francis and leadership also appears on her blog: "Papal leadership without easy answers."

Alvin Plantinga: "Richard Dawkins is not pleased with God."

Chickens by Esther Greenleaf Mürer. "Using repetition to splice two genres – the oriental ghazal and the blues – this humorous offering demonstrates the poet's joy in language and form."

I use some of Mumford and Sons' music in my classes, so I'm always interested in news items about their relationship to faith.

"This Is It" ... a tasteful variation on this classic's original title. Enjoy!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As another Quaker view on Pope Francis, may I please add "Welcome, Paco!"