It seems like yesterday when the news of the abdication of our beloved Benedict shocked the world. It was the day of the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11. I think that was a significant date, pregnant with all kinds of meaning and definitely a Marian date. The news came to me as I sat at my computer early in the morning, Buenos Aires time. The “Pope Resigns!” titles woke me up completely before I could take the first sip of my morning coffee. I started making quick calculations. A glance at the calendar revealed the 13th day of March as a possible date for something big. You already know that the 13th of each month is the day of the Mystical Rose, Our Lady Queen of Priests. Since the priesthood in the Church is in sore need of healing these days, it seemed natural (or rather super-natural) that a new Pope, a Marian Pope, would be called to lead the Holy See.
When the Conclave was called for the 12th I knew in my heart it was going to be short and the white smoke on the second day did not surprise me at all. “Perfect!” I shouted and sat down, waiting patiently for the announcement. When I learned it was Cardinal Bergoglio, that was not a surprise either. And when I heard the name Francis, I said to myself: “Of course!” Because here in Buenos Aires we know him as the Archbishop who takes the bus to work, cooks his own meals, and talks to everyone in his own folksy manner. He is a Peter for our times but expect him to spend more time working on the nets than holding the helm. His favorite kind of net is prayer and Mary, the Morning Star guides his barque.
Francis will be more apt to kiss the wounds of the leper on the road to Assisi than to have his ring kissed. He is likely to ascend on the feast of St. Joseph because he is also, like that saint, a man of few words, a man that leads by silent, manly example. The complacent leaders of the Church are about to experience the power of his sanctity.
Like many Argentines, Francis descends from Piedmontese immigrants and I believe his strong Marian traits are part of his upbringing: La Madonnina was part of the families back then and he never ceased walking with her. He has repeatedly consecrated his Archdiocese to the Immaculate Conception and it was no surprise that in his brief address he mentioned his intention to also entrust the City of Rome and the life of Pope Emeritus Benedict to the loving care of Our Blessed Mother.
The intersection of his Marian vocation and his Franciscan simplicity is exactly what the Church needs today. John Paul II was a pope for the countries beyond the Iron Curtain; Benedict XVI was a pope for the secular-leaning Europe. Francis will be a pope for the Americas: expect his simple, austere ways to affect those who live in shameless luxury while pretending to be saviors of the people.
He may be the right man to make the American Church wake up to its mission. The witness of people like Scott Hahn, Stephen Ray, Richard John Neuhaus, Robert Louis Wilken and so many other brilliant converts from Protestant denominations shines in very sharp contrast with the dull message of most American bishops. Perhaps it is time to again be Fulton Sheen Catholics, living a fierce brand of Catholicism that is distinctively American without being disloyal to the ancient doctrine. The American Church has been married for too long to the Democratic Party. When in 1968 the Democrats ceased to be the Party of the American Workers and became a loose federation of progressive political interests, many in the Church simply did not notice that they were not in Kansas anymore. They grew complacent and fat and got too used to government largesse. They looked more and more like Herod and less and less like John the Baptist. Well, here is a Holy Father like John the Baptist. Hear it from Cardinal Bergoglio:
“In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don’t baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage,” Bergoglio told his priests. “These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish to get the baby baptized!”
He does not talk much but when he talks, you’ll hear him.
A long time ago, another Francis used to walk through the villages without uttering a word, letting his tattered habit and simple sandals do the talking. That Francis once heard God say: “Francis, go and repair my house. Don’t you see it’s in ruins?” Francis was not strong, rich, impressive, eloquent, or erudite. That is why once the house was rebuilt, everyone knew that the power of God had done it through him.
Another Francis comes to us today. He faces a colossal task armed only with the simple habits that some in the Church forgot long ago: prayer, simplicity, charity, and a serene manliness. There is no doubt in my mind that he will know how to shepherd his flock in these turbulent times. Watch him do it and learn.
Published 14 March 2013.