We have a pope! Ring the bells that still can ring…


Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

How I LOVE that lyric from Anthem by Leonard Cohen.

On March 13, I was sitting in my living room proofing a report that was due to a client.  My husband burst out of his home office, looking for me.  “I hear the bells!  Do you hear the bells?”  Thinking he was going a little daft, I feared for a moment, but then got it…  the bells!  The bells of St. Augustine, the Catholic church at the bottom of my street.  The bells I catch at 8:45 every morning when walking Nessie.   Those bells ring at 8:45 every morning, summoning people to 9:00 Mass.

But it wasn’t 8:45.   It was in the afternoon.  And all of a sudden I remembered how the bells rang when Pope Benedict was elected.  So, this meant there was a new pope!  Now, my husband isn’t even Catholic, and for that matter, neither am I.  But I have certainly have brought my Catholic heritage into my life with no apologies.

So the bells were ringing, and with that, I was searching CNN.com.  Sure enough, habemus papum!  We have a pope!  And a simple Pope at that!   He cooks his own meals.  Eschews the fancy cardinal digs for a small apartment.  Rides the bus instead of taking a limousine.

CNN made good work of talking about this, how Pope Francis is a man of firsts–first non-European pope; the first Jesuit pope; first to choose the name of Francis, first to petition his flock to pray for him before he prayed for them.

Then, of course, the backlash.   Maybe he wasn’t so perfect after all.  Maybe he hadn’t done enough.  He should have done more to free and protect Argentinian Jesuits during the Dark War.  He didn’t back gay marriage.

When I started reading all this stuff about how “imperfect” Pope Francis is, I remembered Leonard Cohen’s lyric.  I remembered Dorothy Day who had an abortion, who was divorced.  I thought about the former party animal St. Augustine.   And then, what about Victor Hugo’s inspirational Jean Valjean–a thief, turned prisoner, turned ex-con, turned man of God.

I recently watched a Youtube video in which one of Dorothy Day’s commentator’s said that the meaning behind Dorothy Day’s famous quote:  “Don’t call me a saint.  I don’t want to be dismissed so easily”  is that designating her a saint lets us all off the hook.  If we expect saints to be perfect, we don’t have to strive for sainthood, because we’ve already “broken the seal” of sinfulness.  Kind of like when you abandon a diet after succumbing to pint of Cherries Garcia ice cream.  Well, guess what.  Yes, we’ve all broken the seal of sinfulness by virtue of being born.

But accepting that we, as well as all the saints, have inherited this original sin offers us hope.   Because all we have to do is accept God’s grace and take up the cross.  Anyone can do this!  We aren’t that special!  But paradoxically, we ARE that special.   We are special because we have cracks–not because we are perfect.  Our cracks are the peephole to God’s grace, and the way for the light to shine on others.

So when some people bash Pope Francis, I just want to say, “He’s not perfect.  Duh.  But he has lived among the poor.  He does not dismiss them.  He has washed the feet of AIDS patients.  He does not dismiss them.”  And as pope, it seems he will not be dismissing the imprisoned on Maundy Thursday, when he will go to a minor’s prison outside Rome instead of St. Peter’s Basilica, where he will wash of the feet of young offenders,

If he can stay true to himself, it will be a wonderful thing for the people, for the Church, and for the world at large.  If he can continue to perform these simple yet profound acts of humility and love for all of humanity, warts and all, he will shine a light on what we all wish a Christ-follower and Church leader to be.  And he will shine a light on the path that we can all follow.


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