As a non-Catholic follower of Christ, I am intrigued by Pope Francis. He seems to have little interest in the trappings of power and wealth that have characterized his position for centuries. A Pope carrying his own suitcase seems out of place. The Vicar of Rome beginning his tenure by asking for prayer for himself is abnormal. The leader of the Catholic Church wearing simple garments looks out of place. He reminds me more of Mother Theresa than any of the previous Popes I have observed. I wonder how a man who lives simply and humbly will change the character of the papacy, not only during his time as Pope but for all who follow him.
But apart from any precedence he may set for the Catholic Church, this Pope provides an example that should make the rest of us pause and evaluate ourselves and our own churches.
How comfortable have we in the American church, particularly in suburbs and other pockets of wealth, become with power and affluence? Have we lost identification with the poor that Jesus commended in the Sermon on the Mount? Aren’t most of us laying up treasures on earth for ourselves rather than treasures in heaven? How can we justify our excesses when most of the world lives in hunger and poverty? This Pope forces me to reflect on my own greed and recognize that many American churches fail to preach and practice the generosity of the early church. (Try reading Acts 4:32-37.)
How many of us as church leaders are truly servants—a requirement for leadership in God’s kingdom (Matt. 20:20-28)? Is there something in all of us that likes following people who live for themselves—whether they are Popes, Pastors, or church celebrities? Maybe we feel they give us license to live selfishly too. Jesus’s call to die to ourselves as he did doesn’t really ring true to today’s Christianity.
I am blown away by the impact that someone who attempts to live as Jesus did is able to have in our world. Someone like Mother Theresa and so far this new Pope get a lot of attention by reflecting rare qualities of humility, love, service, and unselfishness—characteristics of Jesus.
I wonder how much more effective the voice of the church would be if we lived out the principles of Jesus. I am hopeful about Francis’s positive influence within his church, and I pray that we are humble enough as non-Catholics to let his example teach us something also.