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Hallo again to all.

“PopeIn the six months since the election of Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio SJ as Pope Francis, a fresh wind appears to have begun blowing from the City of Seven Hills. The new Bishop of Rome has worn a clown nose; kissed a man disfigured by neurofibromatosis; promised to baptise the child of an unwed Italian woman; insisted on living in the Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse rather than the traditional papal palace apartments; rejected the papal mozzetta; suggested that women may begin to serve as cardinals; called for more inter-religious dialogue, especially with Muslims; and questioned recent Roman Catholic foci on matters of human sexuality and reproduction.

(It is important to note that the new Servant of the Servants of God has reiterated his predecessors’ opposition to the ordination of women to the priesthood, and that he does not propose major changes in the Roman Church’s teachings on sexual morals. It is not from earlier articulations of doctrine that he has departed in ways so striking to observers, but rather that he has brought refreshing new attitudes to papal practice.)

What to make of it all? Did the cardinals vote poorly when Benedict XVI—now Pope Emeritus—resigned and called a conclave? Have they selected a new Vicar of Christ who is somehow less properly Catholic than his predecessors? Is Pope Michael of Kansas right? One American bishop has gone so far as to ask whether Pope Francis may be the first Anglican pope.

We rejoice in every good word and deed of any other Christian, and so we are glad to give thanks for the excellent things Pope Francis has said and done this year. Yet an unspoken element of this religious-cultural moment—in which so many are saying so much about how much difference and good they see—is that the pope has caused so much shock just by being a gentle and thoughtful Christian. With all respect due the pope's office and his virtuous actions, this makes us yawn a bit. It's as though headlines were screaming 'PRIEST BELIEVES IN JESUS!'

Consider the following paragraphs:

Pope Francis declares that he is a sinner, and asks his friends to pray for him. Pope Francis asks “who am I to judge?” when he speaks about the private sexual lives of persons of good will. Pope Francis lives a public life characterized by simplicity, gentleness, openness and Christlike actions. Pope Francis makes Christianity attractive.

Serious Christians declare that they are sinners, and ask their friends to pray for them. Thoughtful Christians ask “who am I to judge?” when they speak about the private sexual lives of persons of good will. Gentle Christians live public lives characterized by simplicity, gentleness, openness and Christlike actions. Every kind and thorough Christian makes Christianity attractive.

In short, although it is very wonderful indeed to see a priest-bishop-archbishop-cardinal-now pope behave in such ways as Pope Francis does, we wonder what all the shock and awe is about. Shouldn't such actions be the baseline of Christian discipleship, rather than an amazing summit among its most public practitioners? Surely any Christian leader should—after a life of prayer, service, devotion, education in virtue, careful listening to the Holy Spirit—have come to a place in which his or her innate response to the Sermon on the Mount is one of gentle and affirmative clarity. Surely this basic evangelical honesty should not be a surprise to the faithful in the worldwide Body of Christ.

What sincere Christian shrinks from offering a welcome to an expectant and unwed mother, greeting a brother in the Lord whose body is broken by illness, speaking with persons of good will who do not share our faith, or wearing a clown nose?

As Anglican Christians, ourselves Catholics who honour the Bishop of Rome just as we honour every bishop in every apostolic see, we pray fervently for the long life and good ministry of Pope Francis. We pray, too, for the wide realisation that this very good man from a barrio in Buenos Aires is not at all remarkable unless each gentle Christian is equally remarkable.

With a world of Christians of every calling who set themselves to the basic Gospel sacrifice taught by the actions of this pope, what transformation of the world into a community of love and light would be impossible? God only knows.

See you next week.

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10 November 2013

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