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"Why should I care that the Pope visited?"

posted Sep 29, 2015, 3:10 PM by Farar Elliott
The question was posed by one of my twins.  And to be perfectly honest, I had been asking myself that question for the better part of a week. 

I was somewhat surprised at how much Pope Francis' imminent arrival brought out my Inner Protestant.  My brain was occupied with all of the horrible things that the See of Rome had meant in the church's history: oppression, the Inquisition, the Borgias, indulgences; not to mention the suffering of untold numbers of indigenous people and children at the hands of Holy Mother Rome.

For me, the Papacy and Magisterium have often seemed the embodiment of the corruptive result of absolute power.  I rebel against the "top down" leadership model because it results in the kinds of abuse and division that "corrupt and destroy the creatures of God."

My friend The Rev. Dr. Toddie Peters of Elon University , said it well in her article Protestant Pope Envy:

I believe in shared power. I believe that God's grace and wisdom can and does work through communities of people who carefully, prayerfully, and honestly seek to discern what is good and just, and right - together in good faith.....  the Pope commands an authority that is singularly invested in his hierarchal position. His influence is directly related to his position.

Ultimately, perhaps that's the Achilles heel of the Catholic church. Vesting so much authority and power in one person means that a lot more is riding on the idiosyncrasies, theological orientation, and personal commitments of an individual man in terms of the leadership and vision that he is able to offer to the world. 

This is my understanding of church: that we are at our best when we experience the Holy Spirit as community.  Holiness and faithfulness is not the province of a privileged few or an exalted one.  It is the blessing we all share, because we are Pentecost people. 

At the same time, I find myself intrigued and excited by Pope Francis.  I was thrilled that my family and I got to get to glimpse him leaning out of his open window waving and speaking greetings ( #holyFiat, #holycrossing).  But, not wanting to be a willing fan girl, I have spent a lot of energy trying to figure out why.

This  morning's news feed of my Facebook page from Ring of Fire Radio.com shed some light on the matter:  Pope Rejects Lunch with Boehner, Pelosi, McConnell, Reid: He will be Dining with the Homeless 

And there it was.  The reason I find myself following the news of this Pope.  For the first time in my life, I am seeing a Pope model what the church is called to be.  Pope Francis speaks of the church as a community that cares for (not just about) the poor, a community that gives voice to the suffering, a community that cares for God's creation and honors it for the gift it is.  Pope Francis doesn't model a church that hides behind stained glass or cowers behind bullet proof windows or one that is content spending time with the powerful; he models a visible, passionate, vulnerable church.  He models the kind of church the World fears, because this is the kind of church that could actually change it.

Watching his morning's news feed of Francis serving the homeless, not just symbolically, but actually touching and working and serving the homeless, I realized why I'm intrigued by Francis.  When I see him work, I see a church leader who seems to takes the mission of Christ so seriously.  And when I've heard Francis speak, I don't find myself thinking about the Protestant/Catholic divide.  Instead, I think about all the ways in which I could be a more faithful Christian.