The weeks between Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI resigning and Pope Francis stepping out onto that balcony happened to coincide with particularly dark spiritual days for me, a long stretch of feeling adrift and wondering where I’d eventually land. There were even days, I will admit, when I railed against the Church (if only in the privacy of my own home). All I kept hearing in my head were Jesus’ own words: “Blind guides…hypocrites.” Even the run-up to the conclave held no appeal for me. I was detached, unfeeling, unsure.
But yesterday afternoon, when that white smoke billowed out of the chimney, I felt a twinge of excitement — and hope — at the prospect that maybe, just maybe, this would not just be business as usual. When I heard the name Pope Francis, my heart leapt. When I realized that man was the one I’d heard had shunned a private car and a fancy house, I smiled. When Pope Francis stood there and bowed before the crowd, asking the people to bless him before he blessed them, the darkness that had been enveloping me began to lift.
I started searching for things Pope Francis had said or written, and this was the first thing I found:
“We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church.
“It’s true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old.
“Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that’s sick because it’s self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former.”
And the light grew. Then I found this:
“We seek to make contact with families that are not involved in the parish. Instead of just being a Church that welcomes and receives, we try to be a Church that comes out of itself and goes to the men and women who do not participate in parish life, do not know much about it and are indifferent towards it. We organise missions in public squares where many people usually gather: we pray, we celebrate mass, we offer baptism which we administer after a brief preparation. This is the style of the parishes and the diocese itself. Other than this, we also try to reach out to people who are far away, via digital means, the web and brief messaging.”
And the tears formed, and for the first time in weeks I no longer felt adrift. Every quote and every photo I found over the course of last night gave me more and more hope. When I went to bed,I picked up the “little black book” I had been using for Lent, the one still opened to the first week of Lent because I had been unable to pray, and turned to March 13 and prayed.
I don’t usually put so much stock in one person, especially a high-ranking churchman, but this man gives me hope in new ways. Being a Jesuit but choosing the name Francis speaks volumes, and I am so excited to see what happens next for our Church, where this humble man who has chosen simplicity and the poor over comfort and the curia will take us.
God told Francis: “Rebuild my church.” Please, Pope Francis, do the same for us. Rebuild our Church from the inside out and remind us what stands at the heart of our faith under all the worldly trappings.