Pope Francis

Pope Francis

BY JAMES HUG S.JMarch 27, 2014

Many people over the last 12 months have written and talked about “the Francis effect” on various facets of Catholic life. Without a doubt, Pope Francis has modeled a human, servant-Jesus in almost innumerable ways and is launching powerful forces of freedom and renewal in the Church.

Who can remember having seen a pope before who pulled out his billfold and paid his own hotel bill before hopping the bus with the other cardinals, carrying his own suitcase, to go to his new residence? When have we seen another pope giving a boy with Downs Syndrome a ride in the pope mobile and embracing a man terribly disfigured by disease?

And how many millions saw the video clip of Francis nonchalantly giving a papal speech while a small boy hugged him around the legs, received an affectionate pat on the head, climbed up and sat on the papal throne, and then took charge of guiding visitors up to meet Francis? We’re told he likes people to use the familiar, informal “you” (“tu” in Italian rather than “Lei”) when addressing him in Italian, commenting that he didn’t believe Jesus asked people to call him “Your Excellency” (or even “Your Holiness”?!)

Pope Francis has also made it clear that he wants a church that is bruised and dirty from being out working with people in need on the streets rather than a clean, neat, or perfect church closed up in narrow halls of (righteous?) rightness and sinlessness. In another earthy image, he is telling bishops and other pastors that he expects them to “smell like their sheep” and not act like princes! Have you ever smelled sheep?! No offense to the laity!

Francis’s impact on Holy Week already began to take shape last Holy Thursday when he celebrated the Eucharist not in a church but in a local Roman jail, washing the feet of young prisoners, including two women and two Muslims. He was accused of giving bad example by breaking liturgical laws! Ah well, Jesus got the same kind of criticism.

So what might all this extraordinary witness mean for our Lent this year? So many years in my life I approached Lent as a penitential retreat time, forty days of fasting and reflecting on the patterns of sin in my life and among us as a community. The backdrop has been Jesus’s command to “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect!” The frequent refrain: “Jesus suffered and died on the cross for my sins, for our sins.”

What do you think a Lent in the spirit of Pope Francis should look like?

Think about it yourself and watch for Part II of this posting.

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