Pope Francis is good news

"Francis’s small acts... communicated humility and largesse of spirit."

As a Catholic who has sometimes questioned her involvement with the Church, I read with great interest the full text of Pope Francis’s interview with Antonio Spadaro, S.J. recently published in the Jesuit magazine America. As I pondered the contents of the interview, these words, which I paraphrase from the Book of Isaiah, sprang to mind: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of one who brings good news.” And Francis, in my view, is good news for Roman Catholicism.

From the moment he stepped onto the balcony overlooking Saint Peter’s square, humbly bowing his head to ask for the blessing of the people, Francis began to change the tone of the hierarchical church at the same time showing the world what it means to be a Christian.

Within days of becoming pope, Francis’s small acts – paying his hotel bill, riding in the bus instead of the papal limousine, and moving into Room 201 at Santa Marta instead of into the papal apartments – communicated humility and largesse of spirit.

Over the last six months, we have seen examples of his pastoral style, his informal yet gracious manner of bringing the face of God to people. Actions, such as chatting with reporters on a plane, responding candidly to impromptu questions and making “cold calls” to people who have written him for consolation, speak volumes about this pope’s expectations for the church’s engagement with the world.

Speaking with Spadaro about the type of church he would like to see, Francis compared the church to a “field hospital after battle”, saying that today the church must heal wounds and warm hearts.  This image of the field hospital contrasts with another image Francis draws upon later in the conversation; that of the church as a laboratory. “Ours is not a ‘lab faith,’ but a ‘journey faith,’ a historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths.”

The contrast between these two images, especially when considered in light of Francis’s style, points to a change in emphasis away from moral pronouncements towards the proclamation of “the saving love of God” because “God is greater than sin.”

Francis wants to take the church out of the laboratory and into the streets, where faith, culture and morality meet and frequently collide, and where abstract truths must be weighed against the actual circumstances of people’s lives.

I read this interview with great interest, and received Francis’s comments about the church with enthusiasm, but I was particularly captivated with the humble and compassionate tone that animated the interview.  Francis’s humility and compassion are clearly evident in what he defines as his “dogmatic certainty”: that is, “God is in every person’s life…Even if that person has been a disaster”.

Francis’s dogmatic certainty is good news and it reveals the heart of the Christian faith.  The church is not a laboratory for the formulation of doctrine; it is the field hospital where an encounter with God is always possible.

Trail, BC resident Louise McEwan is a freelance religion writer with degrees in English and Theology. Her blog is www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com.

Contact her at mcewan.lou@gmail.com .