Most folks don’t normally think of the Pope as a hero. To Catholics, he’s a leader, spiritual guide, giver of laws. To non-Catholics, he’s a role model, maybe. In some unfortunate cases, he’s a misguided–or even malicious–purveyor of hatred and intolerance. To many, he’s irrelevant, just an old guy in a funny hat.
But a hero? That’s not a word I’ve heard applied to the Pope in my lifetime.
But this one seems different. In my lifetime, there have been two others: Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II. They seemed concerned with questions of doctrine more than spirit, more concerned with telling their faithful how to live than showing them.
Pope Francis seems determined to do the opposite. He seems determined to show them how to live like Jesus.
How? By issuing messages of tolerance, refusing to repeat his predecessors’ assertions that gays are irredeemable sinners. By considering the appointment of a woman to the College of Cardinals. By embracing–literally–a man hideously disfigured by disease. By allowing the possibility that non-Catholics–even atheists–can be good people. By going to a prison and humbly washing the feet of inmates, some of them Muslims.
He’s taking stands that may not be popular in his own church. Some have come close to calling him a heretic. But to him, this is how God has called him to lead.
Some might say it’s not courage to take unpopular stands among humans when you’re convinced you’re assured of an eternal reward. I disagree. Eternal reward or no, it takes courage to stand before people accustomed to hearing one message and try to deliver another. It takes courage to try to change the focus of an institution that has held the power of life and death–more than that, power over their very souls–over millions of people for hundreds of years. Even when you’re the leader of that institution. Even when you’re recognized as God’s representative on earth.
If it didn’t require courage, it would be the norm. If it didn’t require courage, all popes would do it. It does, and they don’t.
You can read about Pope Francis here.