Cheesy, Bee and I have been doing our share of Vatican-watching over the last few weeks. I have a close friend who is related by marriage to Cardinal Dolan so I couldn’t help pulling for him (even though my friend had admittedly mixed feelings). Cardinal Dolan is from the St. Louis area, too, so it would have been a hometown-boy-makes-vicar-of-Christ kind of story.
Still, I knew Dolan was a long shot. I started confidently predicting Scola, buying the conventional wisdom that the cardinals would elect an Italian. I was, of course, wrong. We perched in front of the TV and waited anxiously, and I think I can sum up our reaction to the naming of the Pope – and the initial reaction of the crowd in Vatican Square – with one word: “Huh?”
My surprise (and ignorance) quickly turned to intrigue with a Pope who took the name Francis, and presented himself to the crowd with such humility. When he asked the crowd to pray for him, I prayed for him as well.
The stories came in a steady stream this past week – of Archbishop Bergoglio’s commitment to the poor, of his simple life, of this friendships with Protestants. This last characteristic has been reported by the Anglican Bishop of Argentina, as well as by evangelist Luis Palau. Many church leaders talk about improving relations between Catholics and Protestants: Jorge Bergoglio seems to have lived it.
The day that Pope Francis was introduced, I told the girls all of my favorite stories about St. Francis of Assisi, but I was especially moved thinking about Francis’ vision in the chapel of San Damiano. “How beautiful,” I said, “If Christ would give the same call to this new Francis: ‘Repair my church.'” Surely we can all acknowledge that the Church as a whole, including the Catholic Church, is in need of renewal and reform.
Today I read that the Patriarch of Constantinople is going to attend the new Pope’s inaugural mass. No big deal, except that it hasn’t happened in a thousand years – not since the Great Schism of 1054. This is amazing. And this is also about the time when the conspiracy theorists can be expected to pop out of the woodwork. Bergoglio’s Jesuit background is chum in the water for virulently anti-Catholic Christians. Because the Jesuits are like the SS of the Catholic Church, don’t you know. “Ninjas for the Pope”, no less. And all of this friendliness, between Orthodox and Protestant and Catholic Christians – it’s just a sign that we are moving to One World Religion, and the rise of the Antichrist. Here’s quote to give you an idea of the alarm bells that are going off right now.
“The goal of every pope has been to make the entire world Catholic. They’re into world dominion. … Their eschatology is that Jesus won’t return until the world is Roman Catholic.” ~Mike Gendron, Proclaiming the Gospel Ministries
That’s a pretty moderate statement compared to some of what I’ve read. I don’t want to pass on the more extreme stuff, not even to disagree with it. But I do have this to say about increasing fellowship between Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic Christians: if it’s Christ who brings us together, it’s a good thing. When we pray, “Thy Kingdom come”, aren’t we praying for a Kingdom in which all those who worship the crucified and risen Christ recognize each other as brothers and sisters?
I’m not an apologist for the Catholic church: there are significant reasons why I’m not Catholic. But when I hear the Pope saying, “We can walk all we want, we can build many things, but if we don’t proclaim Jesus Christ, something is wrong. We would become a compassionate NGO and not a Church which is the bride of Christ”, I can only add an “Amen.” To the degree that we worship and proclaim Jesus Christ, we Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians will be moving toward each other. I pray for the day when there will be one worshiping community – one Church – because I believe it’s God’s work and He’s going to accomplish it. I don’t think our unity will come at the expense of truth. Instead, I believe that the Holy Spirit will guide us, all of us, to the truth, as our hearts are devoted to God and to each other. Could I commend you again to John Wesley’s advice on the subject, part of which I shared in this post?
This hope may seem impossibly idealistic after thousands of years of infighting, but it’s the vision of the New Jerusalem in John’s Revelation, and it’s the promise of the gospel in Paul’s epistles.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:14-22
Today Pope Francis issued his first tweet: “Dear friends, I thank you from my heart and ask you to continue to pray for me.”
You’ve got it. Will do.