Right after Pope Benedict XVI resigned/retired/quit/abdicated his position, someone associated with our local church but not a member asked me about the church’s (meaning the local church) reaction to his actions.
I pointed out that we, as a church and as a denomination, had no concern in the matter.
And I think I was right in saying that. Nothing a Pope says or does really directly concerns the actions and operations of any United Methodist Church.
But, and this was especially after the announcement of the election of Francis I, I began to think about what his election means not just for the United Methodist Church but all churches, local, denominational, and in general.
Okay, first the obvious – the guy’s old but there was a sense of being alive when you, if you were watching the proceedings Wednesday, first saw him. The one cardinal who came out and read the announcement looked and sounded really old. And then Francis stepped out on the balcony and there was a smile on his face and he just seemed alive.
I have said on it a number of occasions in the past but there is mind-set old and there is calendar old. Francis has the years but I think he has a young, or younger, mind-set.
His age is going to work against and I wouldn’t doubt that the pressures of the position wear on him very quickly. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t resign in five years or so.
And while Francis is said to be theologically conservative, I am not sure that is a label that means as much as one thinks. His actions tell more about what may happen than guessing about how he thinks.
He lived frugally as the Arch-bishop and it appears that he has begun doing some of the same things in Rome. I read the other night that he didn’t sit on the throne or ride in the limo provided for the Pope. These actions are going to upset some people, especially those who make their living based on the power of the position. That may be a good thing in the long run, especially in terms of the bureaucracy that so dominates the Vatican.
He is the first pope from the Americas, from the southern hemisphere, the first Jesuit, and he chose a name that had never been used before. Each of these, in a small way, speaks of some change. In his election, the Roman Catholic Church is beginning to realize that their church is changing and is no longer what it once was.
I think that it is a message that we in the United Methodist Church might well listen to. We are not the church we once were and while we would like to be that church of days ago, it is the mission we must consider and not what once was.
In choosing the name Francis, this new pope honored St. Francis Xavier, one of the co-founders of the Society of Jesus, which we know better as the Jesuits. The Jesuits are, as one commentator pointed out, the intellectuals of the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Francis is saying that what we think is very important.
But he also honored St. Francis of Assisi. In his own live, we can see how or why he choose to honor this saint and it would say much about where this new pope sees the mission of the church.
And that is something that we, as United Methodists need to examine ourselves. John Wesley felt that education and intellect were as important as caring for the poor and the less-fortunate. This new pope’s name tells us that he puts an equal premium on one’s heart and mind together and neither should take second to the other.
And that is, I think, what we should take from the selection of Francis I as the new pope. In order to understand the mission of the United Methodist Church, we need to remember that we live for Christ with our mind and heart together and not apart.