If I were a Roman Catholic I think I would be really proud right about now. I think the new Pope has set a good example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus: to be a servant of all.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)
This new Pope seems to have rejected the luxuries that previous Popes have embraced in favor of showing himself to be on equal footing with others. Peggy Noonan notes several things that point to the humility of Pope Francis:*
- His plain regalia as he stood on the balcony
- Request for crowd to pray for him before he prayed for them
- Loves the poor and even gave the cardinal’s palace in Buenos Aires to a missionary order that had no money
- Lives in an apartment
- Cooks his own food
- Rides the bus
- Picks up his own luggage
- Pays his own hotel bill
- Shuns security
- Refuses a limousine
- Gets on a minibus with the cardinals
- Visits a church in a modest car in rush hour traffic
- Greeted the people before greeting the Vatican officials and staffers following his election
- Reportedly refuses to sit on a throne and meets his fellow cardinals standing
Many people seem to be hoping for change with this new Pope and I think change is exactly what they’re going to get, though perhaps not the change they are hoping for. The new Pope will probably not institute any progressive reforms or change the church’s stance on gay marriage, abortion, or contraception; this is not the change Catholicism needs.
The change Catholicism needs is a change of heart and mind, and I think the new Pope is quite capable of instituting this change if he continues being the servant that he seems to have been his entire life. It seems to this Protestant that for too long the Roman Church has communicated (whether intentionally or not) that it is superior to the people and its job is to rule over the people and the people are to serve them. This is a reversal of the order that Jesus intended for His followers. Jesus called His disciples to be servants of all, just as He was a servant of all and laid down His life for all.
If the Roman Church can embody this simple principle of servanthood it will bring some long overdue change to Roman Catholicism. People need to see Rome as interested in serving them rather than ruling over them. Once this change happens I think people will begin to see and embrace the God that Rome has over zealously protected these many years. They will begin to see that Jesus came to give life to His followers, not to scare or force them into obeying His teachings with the threat of eternal damnation. Pope Francis seems to understand this.
My hope and prayer is that Pope Francis continues what appears to be a great example of servanthood and that his example permeates throughout the Roman Church. Like it or not the Roman Church is the face of Christianity in the west, and a well received and appreciated Roman Church is good for the rest of western Christendom; we are yolked to them whether we like it or not.
*My apologies if you have issues viewing Noonan’s article. If you cannot view it please let me know.
Have you actually had any contact with the Catholic Church, beyond your external observations? Because what impressed me most, and what drew me more than anything else, was the spirit of total service that exuded from everyone I met, both the clergy and the laity, to a degree far beyond anything I ever saw or experienced in the Protestant world.
I personally have had very little contact with the Catholic Church beyond my external observations. I have known a few Catholics and they were nice people, but I have had virtually no contact with the clergy, except for books written by them. Parts of Barron’s “Catholicism” I thought were really good and insightful.
The spirit of total service you mention is something that may indeed be present amongst Catholics, but I think that this spirit has not been communicated to those outside the Catholic Church. I think that most non-Catholics think of the Catholic Church as an organization that wants to rule over them and take their money and abuse their children. In short, I think the perception is of the abuses of the church, not the serving. And while this perception may be prevalent due to the media coverage that the abuses receive(d), and while the media will most likely not cover all the good things the Catholic church may do, I think that individual Catholics (and their parishes) can indeed change the public perception. The attitude of service needs to be shown so that others can see it because right now the majority of non-Catholics only see the abuses.
And perhaps this attitude of service is already being shown by individual Catholics and their parishes and I am just unaware of it. I lived the first part of my life in a largely religiously apathetic area and now live in a major city in the Bible Belt, so it wouldn’t surprise me!
Yeah, I understand. I grew up and live in the buckle of the Bible Belt myself, and was hardly aware of Catholics at all growing up. Catholics just don’t have as much of a presence in most of the South that they have in other places. I think that’s the biggest part of why I was so surprised by what I found when I found myself there: it was so unexpected. Catholics do have great, overflowing charitable efforts most everywhere, whether you see them or not. In the small city in Mississippi where I went to grad school (also where I entered the Church), the Catholic Church was responsible for organizing the city-wide ministry of hosting a free meal to feed and care for the needs of the local poor, and they also had a fund to help the poor on the ground. My tiny parish now in rural Alabama has a ministry (part of the international Society of St. Vincent de Paul) that pours out more of ourselves to help the local poor and suffering than I could have imagined. In large cities it’s Catholics who are responsible for soup kitchens and homeless shelters and the like. The Church as a whole, just by its nature I think, has a heart to service, keeping Christ’s teachings of self-emptying service and love in mind at all time.
And yes, I know there is a perception problem toward the Church in the wider world — and it’s largely the fault of the secular media. The sexual abuse scandals have rocked the Church and are certainly horrible — but the very fact of the Catholic Church’s catholicity (universalness) — the same body, the same Church, being everywhere in the world — makes the problem appear horrifying and endemic. There are over 5,000 Catholic bishops and over 400,000 Catholic priests in the world — and every time one of them screws up, the whole Church gets blamed. To an extent that’s rightly so — we are answerable for our weakest members, and for their gravest sins of preying on the very people we’re called to build up — but if it’s put into the proper perspective, there are at least as many, if not more, Protestant pastors charged with molestation and child abuse every year, but in those cases the churches are usually local and disconnected or at most a regional denomination: there’s not any one single body to blame. Most of the worst cases of child abuse in the Catholic Church, and of covering them up, took place decades ago and are only just now coming to light. The Church has moved heaven and earth in the past decade to address the problem.
But no, there’s little “ruling over” or “taking of money.” Catholic churches do take a collection, but I’ve never heard a preach on money or demand a tithe (certainly there were medieval obligations toward that, but not now). I am so thankful for Pope Francis’s outwardness in service and charity. Most bishops and most popes I’ve been aware of have had a heart toward that. The popes have a title of Servus Servorum, “Servant of the Servants of God,” and for the most part, especially in the past century, popes have really carried out that charge.