I am a born-again Christian who attends a non-denominational Protestant church. At first thought you might think the election of a new Pope should not matter to me, or that I might even scoff at Catholic claims of papal authority and the whole black smoke/white smoke conclave theatrics. However, a major characteristic (and dare I say “admirable quality”) Catholics have in their ranks is organizational unity (for the most part) of their 1.2 billion adherents worldwide. In contrast, under the Protestant umbrella which approximately 840 million subscribe to some flavor or another, there are more denominations than you can shake a stick at.
At the top of this organizational unity within Roman Catholicism is of course the Bishop of Rome – the Pope. Since Pope Benedict announced his historic resignation, I have immersed myself in researching Catholic beliefs and theology out of mere curiosity and intrigue. As an adult convert to Christianity, everything is still relatively new to me so I just try to soak it all in with an open mind.
Now with the selection of the new Pope last week, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina who took the name Pope Francis, I’ve noticed an “evangelical flair” in his first few public remarks. For example, in his first homily (sermon) on March 14th Pope Francis explained –
“When we journey without the cross, when we build [The Church] without the cross, and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.”
Catholics treasure their sacraments, liturgy, and symbols, but elevating The Cross as central to the Christian Faith is a theme typically championed by Protestants. Now if only we could agree that Jesus’ work on The Cross justified us once and for all in God’s eyes, and belief in it with a changed heart is all that’s required for salvation- but that’s another article.
Next, Pope Francis approached the subject of “mercy” in his first Sunday Mass –
“I think we too are the people who, on the one hand want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think – and I say it with humility – that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy.”
Wow. This guy can preach! Now admittedly I have not studied any homilies of past popes, but Pope Francis really seems to have a knack for communication that I’m used to hearing each Sunday in my church.
Another character quality that has struck me with Pope Francis is his humility. In his first public appearance he asked the thousands in St. Peter’s square to pray for him. He also returned to the hotel where he was staying as a Cardinal for the conclave to pay his own hotel bill. And finally, he takes his name from St. Francis of Assisi who lived during the 1200’s and is venerated for championing service of the poor and less fortunate.
As I have continued researching Catholic theology I have gained respect for why Catholics hold certain positions- whether it is papal authority, praying to saints, or the centrality of Mary- among others. And while I don’t embrace many of theses key beliefs, and as a result wont be taking a “journey home” any time soon, the yearning in my heart is for more unity within the Christian Church as a whole. So as I continue in my Christian journey within the Protestant stream, I will pray for Pope Francis to represent the ENTIRE Church and Christ well to the world for the sole reason that many unbelievers see him as the central figure of Christianity.
Let’s save the theology debates for inside the church walls, and actually GO out together into the world AND MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations as Jesus commanded us- Protestants and Catholics ‘one for another’. This sentiment would take the form of Catholics and Protestants serving side by side at soup kitchens, in community events, and caring for the less fortunate with a single mission to love others.
Christians portraying unity to the outside world- imagine the possibilities!