Pope Francis and the Humility of Orthodoxy
| Carl E. Olson | Catholic World Report | Editorial
The newly elected pontiff demonstrates how Catholicism is both consistently compelling and often very unpredictable.
For many people, including many Catholics, the Catholic Church is too old-fashioned, staid, and boring, supposedly failing to be "relevant" and "with the times." And yet, the ancient traditions and venerable institutions of the Church—especially the papacy—continue to fascinate and even transfix the world at large. And today's events in Rome demonstrate this fact, showing that Catholicism, far from being dull and predictable, is both consistently compelling and often very unpredictable.
Pope Francis is Exhibit A through Z. First, the unpredictable. Although the Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was reportedly a runner-up in the 2005 papal election, he wasn't on most short lists for this conclave, largely because he is 76 years old, just two years younger than was Cardinal Ratzinger eight years ago. While the possibility of a pope from the Americas seemed more likely than ever before, the names mentioned were mostly from North America, especially Cardinals Dolan and O'Malley.
And yet, just 24 hours and a few votes into the conclave, the first pope from the Americas was introduced to the world. He also is the first pope who belongs to the Society of Jesus, which is something to ponder considering the Jesuits were founded nearly 500 years ago, but also because his taken name, Francis, seems more Franciscan than Jesuit.
Yet even the name comes with a twist or, better, with layers of possible meaning. Most people, understandably, think of St. Francis of Assisi, known for his poverty and humility. That is certainly in keeping with Bergoglio's modest, working-class roots and his widely acknowledged humble and low-key approach, evidenced by his regular use of the bus in Buenos Aires.
But St. Francis of Assisi, viewing the dilapidated church of St. Damian, was told by Jesus Christ, "Francis, go and repair my house, which you see is falling down." There has been much talk of "reform", and most of it has centered not on changing Church doctrine—which needs to be communicated, not reformed—but on cleaning up corruption and rooting out spiritual sloth. Such repair is ever necessary in the household of God, the Church.
However, two other Francis's—both of them Jesuits—must be mentioned, both very likely on the mind of Pope Francis.