Saint Francis and Pope Francis: Men of Surprises

by Alexander Pierre | Aug 27, 2014

By Daniel Conway, Senior Vice President for Mission, Identity, and Planning

Cardinal Francis George says that a little more than a year ago the new pope’s choice of name was “his first surprise.” All the surprises that have come afterward—and are yet to come—can be traced back to Jorge Mario Bergolio’s desire to align himself with Francesco Bernadone, the saint from Assisi who was a man full of surprises. Saint Francis presented himself to the world as Il poverello (the little poor man), and he strove to be God’s jester, poet, and ambassador of peace. Pope Francis seeks to imitate his namesake and he urges all of us to do the same.

We don’t think of popes as “spontaneous” or “unconventional.” We don’t expect them to tell jokes during their homilies or to confront Mafia members and unceremoniously pronounce their excommunication. We don’t expect the pope to live in a hotel or drive an old Ford. “Who am I to judge?” is not the kind of papal pronouncement we’re used to hearing.St.Francis

Pope Francis surprises us. He unsettles us. He challenges us while forgiving and encouraging us. He really is like the little poor man from Assisi—full of paradoxes (apparent contradictions) and beaming with the peace and joy that can only come from Christ! When we look at these two men together, their many differences dissolve and the ways they are alike stand out in bold relief. These are men of the Church wholly dedicated to humility, charity, poverty, peace, and joy. They are unconventional but fully aligned with Catholic tradition. They are spontaneous—eager to move beyond their “comfort zones”—but they never stray from the program outlined in the Gospels, especially the Beatitudes and the parables of Jesus. They can, and do, question the way priests, bishops, and even popes preach (and practice what they preach), but they never doubt the authority given to Peter by our Lord to bind and loose, comfort and heal, challenge and forgive the People of God, the Good Shepherd’s wandering flock.

In the end, it is the cross of Christ leading inevitably to the joy of Easter that unites the saint from Assisi and the pope from Argentina. Both sing of Jesus. Both seek to imitate him, to live as he did, as poor little men who are rich beyond all measure in the abundance of holy joy.

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