Papal Weekend in Philly

For some reason, I thought that I would have more opportunity to write in the summer. I imagined myself getting a few blog posts done a week. This clearly did not happen. What did happen was Vacation Bible School, the National Youth Gathering, Stephen Ministry Leader’s training, and even a few days off. It was a full summer, but full of great things!

I am making it a goal to write more regular blogs, however, and I could use your help. The hardest thing for me about blogging is coming up with topics. Once I’ve got an idea in my head the actual writing is pretty easy. So…what do you want to hear about? Is there a particular question about church or the Bible that has always puzzled you? Is there an item in the news that you would like to hear about from a faith perspective? Please let me know in the comments, or, if you feel more comfortable, send me an email. I will do my very best to write about any topics that are suggested.

With that out of the way…

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Pope Francis is expected to arrive in Philadelphia in just a couple of days. We actually had a gentleman walk into St. Paul’s yesterday and ask if this was where the pope was staying. He was obviously confused, but we did get a good laugh out of it after we gave him directions to St. Charles Seminary.

It’s all part of the “Francis Effect.” For some reason, this pope has brought about a surge of interest in the Roman Catholic Church. He has got folks’ attention. Some say it’s because he is initiating sweeping changes in the Church. I’m not sure this is true. Very little has changed about the way things are being done, and certainly nothing has changed in doctrine.

Some say it’s because his brand of theology, born out of Latin American liberation theology, is radical. Compared to previous popes I can see how this seems radical. Liberation, economic justice, welcoming the stranger, and care for the earth may be a shift in focus for the Vatican, but you will find every single one of them in scripture.

What I think is truly drawing people to Pope Francis is his authenticity. It’s what draws me to listen to him, even when I have serious disagreements with how he speaks about and treats women ( Yet despite these real concerns on my part, I recognize how wonderful Francis has been for the Catholic Church and for Christianity in general.

Finally, instead of the megachurch pastor caught in a sex scandal, instead of the televangelist soliciting billions for a private jet—finally here is someone who takes seriously putting others’ needs ahead of his own. Living what he preaches. Pope Francis, in a historic move, eschewed the papal apartments in Rome, choosing instead to live in a modest house with other priests. He rides around in a Fiat. He has cut down on excess at the Vatican and seems more at home among the poor and outcast than among world rulers and dignitaries.

It is that authenticity that I believe is the root of the Francis Effect. It is something that people have been longing to see from the church, too long concerned with sexual morality (something about which Jesus had very little to say, as opposed to poverty and wealth). People are interested in a church, and in Francis’ case a leader, that practices its beliefs. That puts faith into action. That doesn’t stop—maybe doesn’t even start—with words, but with deeds of lovingkindness and servanthood.

To sum up, let me share a quote from one of my favorite TV shows, the West Wing: “People are going think you’re a lot cooler if you don’t say that yourself, but rather let them find out on their own.”

Bonus points in the comments if you can identify who said it!