MAY 31, 2013


Years ago I wrote a column for distribution to public newspapers with that title: “If I Could Pick the Pope.” It was near the end of the tenure of Pope John Paul II and speculation was rampant about his successor.

I wrote like a typical Protestant and suggested that the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church be a person of color, from the southern hemisphere, with a preference for simplicity in style and attire; I think I may have said something about grandchildren and this is perhaps what caused a certain priest and his Kentucky congregation to respond with indignation.

I published that column in the book On the Other Side of Oddville (Mercer Press, 2006) and describe the reaction to it in my book It’s About Time (iUniverse, 2010).

But I recall that column now as I read about Francis, the pastor of the church at Rome. That phrase, pastor of the church at Rome, seems more suited to him than the series of elevated titles that are normally attached to a person who holds his office: pope, pontiff, holy father, patriarch of the west, and archbishop and metropolitan of the Roman Province; and the list goes on. Francis likes the simple stuff and so do I: simple dress, simple ceremony, simple quarters, simple assignments.

His desire for simplicity has made him popular with Protestants and Catholics alike, and I suspect it will make him more attractive and accessible to people of other faiths and people with no faith.

I like his preaching, and he preaches every day, it seems.  It speaks a brief, spontaneous homily to the people gathered for worship at the Vatican. Spontaneous does not mean without preparation but it does mean with a manuscript.

A young listener in awe of a preacher asked, “How long did it take you to prepare that sermon?” and the answer: “All my life.”

Francis has been preparing all of his life for this assignment: learning, listening, reading, writing, walking, talking, and praying. These holy habits have shaped his imagination, his values, his skills, and his affections.  All of that is coming to the fore now, and people who watch and listen like what they see and hear.  I count myself among them.

I am not a Roman Catholic, but I am catholic in my Christian sympathies. I honor and receive all people of faith and seek to learn from them. I do not agree with much of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, but I affirm their love for God, their faith in Jesus Christ, and their life in the Spirit. I am impressed with their commitment to a life of service to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the displaced; and that is especially true of Pope Francis. I like his preaching and I like his living, and when those two things flow together in the life of a Christian leader, God be praised!!

If I could pick the Pope, I would lay hands on Jorge Mario Bergoglio and call him Francis!!