In but a few days, it will have been three months since Pope Francis was elected to serve as supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church or, as he prefers to be known, the bishop of Rome. Every day, it seems, brings new evidence of the wisdom of the College of Cardinals who, without in any way deprecating the holiness and wisdom of Pope Benedict XVI, chose a very different man to be the public face of Catholicism.
Pope Benedict has a profound sense of the beauty of the faith, a beauty he sought relentlessly to share through his teachings and actions. Ever conscious of his role as the supreme teacher, Pope Benedict revised the papal liturgies – although not the liturgy celebrated throughout the world – to heighten our sense of the infinite glory and awesomeness of God.
Pope Francis teaches too – by his vibrant presence among the people and his unfailing love of the poor. For him too, the liturgy is a place of instruction. He teaches by his absorption in the sacred moment of each unique liturgy where his spontaneous homilies seek less to make a universal statement than to speak to the men and women there before him.
God bless both these popes. They show that the Catholic faith has many faces and that holiness has many faces. Were it not for holiness, it would be easy to dismiss the Catholic faith and the so-called institutional Church as an ideology and a corruptible, out-of-date organization.
There are many examples of corruption in the Church. We must thank God for every sign of sanctity. For the Church is not about self-seeking or climbing ladders. It is a communion of love with one foot in heaven and one foot on the earth.
One of Pope Francis' many gifts is his spontaneity. That spontaneity is no doubt a challenge for those close to him, those who would like papal events to be predictable and pay greater heed to the pope's safety. Pope Francis has clearly made a conscious decision to be awake to God's presence in the moment. It would be a great tragedy if that spontaneity were siphoned away.
Spontaneity is, in fact, a virtue we need to re-learn, so controlled are we by the clock and by false notions of order. However, we need to learn true spontaneity, not a shallow emotionalism where one is blown hither and yon by random feelings and fashions.
Pope Francis teaches that true spontaneity, if we have but the eyes and ears to see and hear it. True spontaneity is not a rebellious autonomy that puts whims higher than duties. Rather, it grows out of the realization that God is alive in each moment and that sometimes we must rise above our duties to meet the Saviour present in the person before us. It is a lesson Western society needs to learn; it is a lesson Pope Francis is teaching.