Enter Pope Francis. My friend Peggy Noonan captured it well. She can’t keep her eyes off of him. She’s not alone. Boys living in the darkness of a Los Angeles detention center see the light too. He is a man who lives simply and humbly, leading with an authenticity, calling others to the same. Yes, the paying of the hotel bill, the cancelling of the newspaper delivery, where he is living — these things all capture our attention. But read his words. Do not speak ill of others, he says. Never tire of asking God for his forgiveness, he says. Step outside ourselves and love with the love of Christ, he says. There are challenges here that go beyond material poverty.
“John Paul and Benedict were bringers, givers, teachers,” is how Peggy put it. “But Francis seems like a summoner, an inviter. And this seems just right for the world right now.”
The cover image of Fr. Robert Barron’s great evangelical resource, Catholicism, is an open church door. He himself is an invitation to Christ. That’s what shepherds are. That’s who they must be. Our true happiness depends on it.
It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep,” where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” — not function — and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.
And to the “lay faithful,” he said: “Be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.” As he indicated so clearly when he stepped out on that balcony and asked for the people gathered to not only pray with him but for him, the Church is more than a pope, more than the cardinal electors, more than those who wear collars or habits. The Church is the living Body of Christ, made up of all its members, all in need of the unifying order of the Savior’s merciful redemption.
We talk about the humility of Pope Francis. We talked about the humility of Benedict in resigning. In a Lenten homily, St. Francis de Sales said that
We must indeed keep ourselves humble because of our imperfections, but this humility must be the foundation of a great generosity, for the one without the other degenerates into imperfection. Humility without generosity is only a deception and a cowardice of heart which makes us think that we are good for nothing and that others should never think of using us in anything great.
Pope Benedict’s resignation has set into motion an extraordinary opportunity. Venerating the Cross of Christ as we do on Good Friday, celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord as Christians do on Easter Sunday, the prayers of the faithful must be that we live Gospel truth and share it. So that the world knows who the Catholics are, not because of scandal, but because of radical love. The way we live our lives must be like that strepitus, a both consoling and revolting alarm that brings about a reflective silence that gives birth to yet more love in the face of evil and mediocrity, pride and prejudice, a cultural contentment with the confusion of relativism. So that we, too, might be shepherds, bringing a world looking for answers, in need of healing, to the Good Shepherd.
That’s what Pope Francis talked about during his first Wednesday audience: going out and finding lost sheep. That’s the divine mercy he reminds us of. Pope Benedict wrote of Jesus, and Pope Francis is going to keep the world from looking away already.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA.