|Picture with thanks to the Telegraph|
Many in my parish would think me a Roman Catholic, and for a number of reasons. First I am known as Father; secondly, I wear some semblance of clerical uniform and only in the colour black; thirdly I know what a cassock is and make use of one from time to time; fourthly, I know when it is better to wear a cotta and not a surplice; fifthly, I can tell my amice from my pumice; and lastly, I wear a small courgette upon my head at odd times during the week (if courgette = zucchetto). Indeed, when I pitched up at church last year wearing a black skull-call there were those who thought I was about to swim the Tiber, drag the parish with me, or else do that strangest of things, and become a member of the Ordinariate!
No, brothers and sisters, I am a catholic, not a Catholic!
That all said, what a time to be Roman. I have to say, out and loud, that I am a fan of Pope Francis I, Bishop of Rome - known to himself as Father Bergoglio. He strikes me as a man from whom we could all learn a great deal on a whole number of fronts.
As I cast my world-weary eye across Christianty, I see evidence of much in the way of admonition. There is much that we shouldn't do, mustn't do, ought not do, must never do, or else can't do. In the press today, Christians are telling off atheists for having a view of their own that is not supportive of us. As a result of our Scriptures we have lots of rules (let's call a collection of rules a law, shall we) and we will work tooth and nail to apply those rules to the societies of which we are part. Our Christian Lore is now applied behind the smiling facade of caffe latte, but nonetheless with convicted vitriol. If you don't claim a full personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you are somehow delinquent.
So back to Pope Francis. I would go so far as to say that among the 'famous' Christians of our time, he is by far and away the most Christ-like. I even think he would shudder to read such words, which is sign yet further of the truth of them. He seems, in his early ministry as Pope, to have moved away from the Christian appetite for admonition - setting aside Christian Lore for what Jesus called us all to do first - and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
An article in the press today tells of the Pope ringing up an Argentinian woman to tell her, in person, that she may receive Holy Communion. Yes, this is a story subject to validation and has a myriad theological questions at the heart of it, but what struck me was not so much the article itself (which was wonderful, if it is true), but the Lore-makers in the Comments section below. They will have knotted their digits trying to pontificate as urgently as they seemed to want to. Instead of preaching grace and love in their comments, they belched dogma! On one hand, you have this smiling grandfather figure allowing a faithful woman into the sacrament of God - and on the other, some pinch-lipped poe-faced theological types in their birettas stomping their sanctuary slippers in a temper.
Which would bring you to faith?
Yes, Jesus set out guidelines for us to follow, but the first is this - that we love. The Pope, a man who takes a bus, washes the feet of Muslim prisoners, telephones parishioners, owned a Harley and does so with a beguiling smile is, I believe, doing more good for Christendom than
so many Lore-types. I doubt that he would stomp up to me and check my passport for entry in the borderlands of personal-relationships with Jesus, but rather exhibits a joy in his relationship that would convert me to faith in a breath, were I not already there. Put another way, Pope Francis has taken upon him that quality of Jesus Christ that was the greatest gift to humanity, his own humanity.