Driving a cab in New York City gives one the opportunity to witness nightly the Miracle of the Multiplication of the Adulterers. Every year there seems to be more people turning away from the Lord, but then again it gives me a great opportunity for prayer and understanding, and yes, even hope. For years ago I was a big, big party guy myself—by chance, today is my twenty-eighth year anniversary of being clean and sober. If the Lord didn’t give up on me and could turn my life around, there is still hope for anyone.
However, sometimes I still have forebodings about our culture in this Neo Dark Age. It seems that “religious” people, more and more, want a church where the members vote on which commandments they want to break each year. I’m exaggerating here a little bit just to get a laugh, but I hope you get my point. Of my 50,000 cab fares in the last twelve years barely a dozen were to churches or synagogues; amidst a culture that strives for ever wilder obscenities, cruder vulgarities and sicker bizarre-ness; all reported by a media that makes evil look beautiful. So how could the world become so fascinated with someone as humble, gentle and charitable as Pope Francis?
As G.K. Chesterton says, “It is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint that contradicts it the most” (G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas).
It is easy to lose sight of the recent resurgence of the Catholic Church and vocations, and Christianity amidst the depravity of this Culture of Death. But Pope Francis is the one great light I have seen shining unashamedly in this Very Dark Age. The Lord in his infinite mercy has gifted us with this radiant son of Argentina, a blessing beyond our wildest imagination.
I liked Jorge Mario Bergoglio from the moment he took the name Francis. In fact, I took that name as my Confirmation Name in 2007. After I first read about him in a Classics Illustrated comic book recommended to me by a Jewish girlfriend in the East Village in 1991, he became my favorite saint. My friend on the other hand took off for Israel to live in a kibbutz and become a bi-sexual Communist–apparently Saint Francis effects different people in different ways.
However, as for Catholics, Chesterton says of the little saint who took a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience:
“Asceticism, in the religious sense, is the repudiation of the great mass of human joys because of the supreme joyfulness of the one joy, the religious joy […] He was, perhaps, the happiest of the sons of men” (G.K. Chesterton, essay entitled Francis, from the collection Twelve Types).
Chesterton also wrote in his biography of the saint, “It was in a wholly happy and enthusiastic sense that St. Francis said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall enjoy everything”” (G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi).
He goes on to say regarding the life of Francis that he “was one of the most consistently successful men that ever fought with this bitter world. Workhouses and lunatic asylums are thronged with men who have belief in themselves. Of Francis it is far truer to say that the secret of his success was his profound belief in other people (GKC, Twelve Types). He treated the whole mob of men as a mob of kings” (GKC, St. Francis of Assisi).
This last sentence describes our Pope Francis in his persistent reminders to treat all people as kings, since we are all made in the image and likeness of the King. He steadfastly prods and pokes and exhorts and pleads with us to help the poor, the needy, the sick, the destitute, the youth and the old—the message of Christ–in his speeches, writings, homilies and Tweets, and most importantly in his day to day actions. We can’t just forget about our brothers and sisters on the edge of town, in the heart of our cities, or in distant lands.
He reminds us by his words and deeds of the incalculable joy that Christ gives to each of us. If you ever want a shot of Twelve Hour Energy just read the opening half dozen or so paragraphs of Evangelii Gaudium, and this bursting joy that reverberates throughout Scripture and the Gospels, and Pope Francis, will ignite you. You might even read the rest of it for an extraordinarily learned look at nearly everything in the world, except sports and weather. The radiance of his face as he kisses babies or the disabled or old people in wheelchairs, or greets poor people or the homeless cannot be faked.
I recently saw the extraordinarily inspiring documentary Francis: The Pope from the New World produced by the Knights of Columbus on EWTN. In it we see the humble and gentle, but firm, Bishop Bergoglio who spent fifteen years recruiting an army of priests to minister to the slums of Buenos Aires, the Villas Misereria (Villages of Misery). Some of the villages don’t even have names such as Villa 21 that Bergoglio visited regularly. He would go to the poorest of neighborhoods on a city bus to celebrate Mass and for Confirmations and Baptisms. Here are six of the quotes from the documentary that I found jaw dropping, some brought me to tears:
A local priest says upon hearing the news of the elected pope: “It is such a great joy. There is a feeling that this is a pope of the villas – of the slums.”
“I jumped up and started crying like Mary Magdalene,” said a woman resident of the Villas, “I had so many goose bumps, such a good feeling. It was such a joy, a joy because the first thing I thought was, oh, he washed my feet, Bergoglio, and now he is pope.”
Argentinean Senator Lillian Negre de Alonzo “a longtime supporter of Cardinal Bergoglio during contentious public debate over abortion and same-sex marriage calls him “a hero, a martyr […] He was reviled; he was insulted; he was defiled, and as a reward the Lord put him in that place as the successor of Peter on earth. I went to my office weeping with joy and gave thanks to God because He compensated him: this person who had suffered in the flesh the hours of Calvary.” [Can you imagine a U.S. Senator speaking with such eloquence?]
A young man at the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil exclaimed, “It is a great emotion to see a pope of the poor. A pope who goes to the young people under (sic) the rain. Who walks on the dirty ground, a ground that is often wet with the blood of the youngsters.”
Carl A. Anderson the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus and one of the documentary’s producers says of the Holy Father:
“What a pope does in our age can reach far beyond the Catholic Church. And the election of Pope Francis now means that the poor now have the most important spiritual leader on earth as a very personal advocate for them. His election challenges everyone to look at their neighbor differently, to reach out in charity and to understand that every life deserves our help. There is a potential for a real global reawakening of a love of neighbor as a result of this pope’s leadership.”
I think Pope Francis says it best when he said at his Inauguration on March 19, 2013 in his homily on the Feast Day of Saint Joseph to a crowd of political and religious leaders of the world:
“Let us never forget that authentic power is service and that the Pope too when exercising power must enter more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lonely, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph. And like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important. Those whom Matthew lists on the final judgment, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison [Matthew 25:35-46]. Only those who serve with love are able to protect.”
And finally to conclude with a message from Pope Francis today February 6, via the Catholic News Service by Cindy Wooden, for World Youth Day 2014 (it will be celebrated locally at the Vatican on Palm Sunday. The next global World Youth Day will be 2016 in Krakow, Poland) :
“The pope said his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, “understood perfectly the secret of the beatitude” [Blessed are the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3)] and demonstrated that by living “in imitation of Christ in his poverty and in love for the poor. ” To be poor in spirit, the pope told young people, they must learn to be free or detached from material things, living simply, being concerned about the essentials, but “learning to do without all those unneeded extras.” Poverty in spirit also requires “a conversion in the way we see the poor,’ which means meeting them, listening to them, caring for them and offering them both material and spiritual assistance.”
Can a shepherd of the slums, the Villages of Misery, love the whole world the same way that he loved the poor of the shanty town Villa 21? I think that is what the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, did.
©2014. Jamey Brown. All rights reserved.