Having been born and raised in the Deep South where protestant churches abound, I was never a fan of Catholicism. The ceremonial pageantry was far removed from the Christianity I was taught growing up and the pope seemed more like the CEO of a greedy corporation dishing out tough rules for the lowly workers while excusing upper management from the same guidelines.
So, nine months ago when Pope Benedict unexpectedly retired and the Conclave Chimney churned forth the white plumes of smoke announcing the Papal vote for his successor, I gave it very little thought.
Now, however, after many public speeches and interviews, I can say something I've never said before in my life: "I love this new pope." He continues to impress the hell out of me. No pun intended. He got my attention early on when speaking about homosexuals.
If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? - Pope Francis
It wasn't just that he didn't avoid the topic, or that he actually used the "G" word, it was the last part of his sentence that warmed my heart. Who is he to judge? The pope is generally considered the highest Christian authority on Earth, yet the Bible is clear that none of us are qualified for that task, which is for God alone. I have many protestant friends who still make the argument today that it is their place, indeed their responsibility as Christians, to judge, yet here's the pope stating with all humility that it is not even his place.
I think it is that character trait that endears me to Pope Francis the most: humility. That's why we never see him in the million-dollar pope-mobile, but his car of choice is a donated 1984 Renault with 190,000 miles on it, or at times a Ford Focus, and at least once a Fiat. He's even expressed his concerns with priests owning new cars.
It hurts me when I see a priest or a nun with the latest model car, you can't do this. A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world. - Pope Francis
Wow! He does truly seem to care about the poor. Back in May he summed it up well.
Today, and it breaks my heart to say it, finding a homeless person who has died of cold, is not news. Today, the news is scandals, that is news, but the many children who don't have food - that's not news. This is grave. We can't rest easy while things are this way. - Pope Francis
In yet another example of being humble, he continues to wash the feet of prisoners, poor people, juvenile delinquents, and even the feet of a young Muslim girl, just as Christ washed the feet of his disciples.
This is the Lord's example. He is the most important one and He washes [other's] feet because those who are the highest among us must be at the service of others. Washing someone's feet is [saying], 'I am at your service.' - Pope Francis
Imagine someone in that high position explaining that their position exists to help others and then doing that very thing. If members of our government were to ever realize that's what their positions are there for, what a wonderful day that would be.
As this guy continues to go off script and shoot from the hip, he might be giving nightmares to his advisors and the core Vatican hierarchy, but he's touching a whole segment of the population that other pontiffs have been unable to reach. He might not convert a lot of people to Catholicism, but hopefully he will make us all think about what the Bible actually says, and allow us to open our own hearts to the poor and needy and finally be able to swallow that big dose of humility that Jesus prescribed.
God bless, Pope Francis, and keep up the good work.