Pope Francis and Me (part two)

Jorge Bergoglio
“What do you think about your pal, the Pope, now?” I was asked yesterday by someone I consider to be a friend – not the Facebook kind, but the more robust kind Jesus had in mind (John 15:15).

“So, now the pope’s ‘my pal,’” I thought.

A little history here. After the election of Pope Francis I, I wrote a blog post about asking my congregation to pray for the new pope – not something a Protestant clergyman typically does, I admitted, but perhaps understandable, even expected, in the current post-denominational landscape.

The new pope had a daunting task, I wrote, and he needs the prayers of the whole church. I argued – or tried to – that, theological differences aside, we are in this together. Catholics and Protestants need each other. People who do not embrace Christian faith tend not to make the fine doctrinal distinctions between believers that we do among ourselves.

What the pope has been up to

Since that post, I think you’ll agree that the pope has said and done some remarkable things.

In March, for example, he washed the feet of a young Muslim woman, a rite typically reserved for Catholics, not Muslims (and for men, not women). Catholic traditionalists, we were told, were very, very concerned.

Then, reports surfaced about the pope’s cold calls to struggling Catholics in Italy, even promising in one call to baptize the infant son of an unmarried woman, if her own priest wasn’t available. This time it was Vatican staff who expressed concern over the new pope’s behavior. Phone calls to hurting church members? Very concerning!

Most recently, we learned that the pope sometimes ventures out of the Vatican at night, dressed as an ordinary priest, to minister to the homeless. So far, I haven’t heard any concern about this habit, except perhaps for the pope’s personal safety.

What to make of it?

What are we to make of this decidedly unexpected papal behavior?

Well, I for one have been surprised and pleased. What better way to unite a broken church – and win the hearts of disaffected Catholics – than by demonstrating a pastor’s heart, by reaching out in personal and tangible ways? A member of my last church liked the idea of cold calling church members so much that she gave me the names of two members who, she said, would be thrilled to hear from me. (I followed through, and they were.)

Not everyone is as pleased, as turns out. Rush Limbaugh said last week on his radio program that the pope was going “overboard on the common-man touch.” Being compassionate and concerned for the poor is all well and good, in this view, but mostly as a public relations strategy. You wouldn’t want to see too much of that.

Or would you?

Here’s my take

I think the pope’s direct challenge to the church has been to demonstrate a great deal more of the – please pardon the expression – “common-man touch.”

“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus,” wrote the pope in his latest exhortation. “I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”

I suspect that Limbaugh’s misunderstanding of what it means to have a pastor’s heart and to live with the “joy of the gospel” has also led him to misunderstand what the pope wrote in the papal exhortation about economics. Limbaugh labelled the pope’s comments “pure Marxism.”

The pope is smart, and he certainly knows as much about economic theory as Limbaugh, but my reading of the exhortation is that it expresses less in the way of economics than it does this “joy of the gospel.”

I think that what the pope is saying is this: “If it sounds like Marxism to you, so be it. I’m declaring what I know to be true about encountering Jesus and about the way hearts and lives are changed as a result of that.”

I’m still praying for this new pope. I don’t know if he’s my pal. But I do know that he’s my brother in Christ. And I want more than anything for him to succeed with the work God has called him to do.

(Photo: That’s the new pope in his clerical collar, not his papal vestments.)

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

20 Responses to Pope Francis and Me (part two)

  1. mike December 4, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Hi Doug –

    If you google “the Secret Life of Pope Francis” you’ll come to an article in USA Today. It’s good for a smile but it left me with a frown and furrowed brow.

    I guess, to quote a lyric from Fall Out Boy…or, maybe better still, George M Cohan. “I don’t care what you say as long as it’s about me.”

    So…I guess it’s good that the doings of Pope Francis are making their way into the monologues of late night comedians. And they do seem to be getting his name right.

    It’s a start 🙂

    • Doug December 4, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

      I can always count on you, Mike, to introduce a popular music reference. Thanks!

    • Doug December 5, 2013 at 5:57 am #

      The “vigilante vicar”! Very funny. If the pope has the attention of late-night comedians, maybe he’s onto something. What they can’t seem to get over is that he’s a human being.

  2. bob sadowski December 4, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    I feel he is doing good things, I would be concerned about his safety tho.

    • Doug December 4, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

      I wonder about the lack of security too. I’ll assume he’s got a heavenly security detail watching out for him.

  3. Jeff Edwards December 4, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    I’ve been praying and cheering on this pope also. After being in a post Doug church where wealth can clear the way for corruption I think Francis has something to say and think about. I’m praying for kids and the pope and all those who could use a guy like him who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. Peace brother. I’m loving your blog.

    • Doug December 4, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

      Thanks, Jeff. I’m honored that you’re a reader.

  4. Ruth Lundy December 4, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    Hi Doug,

    My reply–


    • Doug December 4, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

      Thanks, Ruth!

  5. Harry Vordermeier December 4, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    Thanks, Doug, I agree with all that you wrote. I have close friends and relatives who are Catholics and will forward this to them.

    • Doug December 4, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

      Thanks for the response, Harry. Tell your friends we pray for Francis!

  6. Paul Burgess December 4, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

    I will echo Ruth: AMEN!! What you wrote is what I would want all Christians to root for! Yes, we do have differences (I remember your message at a Thanksgiving service at St. Daniels here in Wheaton where you hoped that we could all share the communion celebration together instead of separaately), but to express the full humanity of everyone is what it’s all about! Thank you for sharing this with all of us!

    • Doug December 4, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

      Paul, our church’s relationship with St. Daniel the Prophet is one of my best memories and proudest moments from Wheaton days. I’m glad you remember too! I can’t believe I challenged them to open the Lord’s Table to us! Thanks for your post.

  7. Sandy Steffen December 4, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

    Way to go Doug!! Amen & Amen!! Miss you & Susan. Love the blog & keeping in touch beyond business. Sandy ( :

  8. Mandana Sharifi December 5, 2013 at 12:24 am #

    It doesn’t matter whether you are Catholic, Protestant or Presbyterian because there is only ONE GOD, ONE LOVE & ONE RELIGION and that is HIM! Here’s my testimony ::You see I first had a vision of Christ back in July 31 1997 the night my father passed away and I was in Orlando …I received a call from an aunt in California stating that my father had passed away…I was so disturbed by the news that I wished to go also hence tried with every knife but non would do anything so I got real mad at GOD stating ‘GOD I don’t want to be here…what do you want from me?’ Then Suddenly I felt a finger on my forehead pushing me on to the couch hence the vision (In a state of a dream) it was 9pm EST. Then I saw who I believe was Jesus…he had light olive skin, brown wavy hear to his shoulder, beard and mustache, his eyes were grey (not green, blue or brown) HE was that close! a white halo glow on the back of his head) HE had a wooden pendant on a chain around his neck that was indented in the middle of the wooden pendant in the shape of the cross..HE then pulled the cross I have from me and indented it into his wooden pendant, HE let go, smiled and said ” There is only ONE GOD, ONE LOVE & ONE RELIGION…and that is Me!” (Meaning HIM) …HE then stated that I should look into my name (Mandana meaning ‘I am the one who knows’) and start a youth foundation Mandana International Youth Foundation (HE repeated it three times)…that’s when I woke up from this trance and started writing everything down ..hence knowing why I was spared..my mission is this bringing youth to GOD thru the arts and sports…sounds wild but truth is sometimes stranger than fiction! All I do since then is because of HIM…Amen! I Have more testimonies but that’s for another time! lol Peace & Blessings be with you Doug!

    • Doug December 5, 2013 at 6:00 am #

      Thanks for letting me know that wonderful story, Mandana. I’m glad you’re here, and I’m glad for your work in so many areas. He obviously did get your attention!

  9. Mandana Sharifi December 6, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    Yep, I guess so! :0)

  10. marietheresamacdonald March 29, 2014 at 6:02 am #

    Than a ton Doug 4 this immensely enjoyable read on pope Francis.This piece is part two so so how do I get to enjoy part one? I am catholic and proud 2 b able 2 follow sane and unbigoted views like yours.Your ole Pal in Peters shoes needs folks like U and may JESUS let us tribe increase.GOD prosper your work in HIS vineyard.

    • Doug March 29, 2014 at 6:52 am #

      Thanks for your comment, Marie Theresa MacDonald. I think there’s a hyperlink in my post that will take you to part one. Just click on the portion highlighted in blue. I very much appreciate your prayers.