The hopeful, believing part of me was deeply moved by yesterday's pageantry of presenting a new pope to the Catholic world. Did the cardinals choose wisely? I think so, given their options. Positive signs for the future: (1) the first American and Hispanic pope, (2) his taking of the name Francis--an evocative, beloved name among Catholics everywhere, and (3) the pope's request that the People of God bless him, before he could bless them (and the humble bow, as he received that blessing). For me, the most symbolic moment of the day--one straight out of Hollywood--came, when a large white bird settled atop the pipe from which white smoke had just announced the election of a new pope. Do I hear Holy Spirit?
What spoiled the aftermath somewhat for me was the way a procession of Catholic spin doctors took over the day, attempting to lock Pope Francis in a doctrinal cage. The worst was an arch-conservative Opus Dei spokesman declaring that Catholic teaching on contraception, abortion, and gay marriage came directly from Jesus. Really? The most extreme and pessimistic comment I've seen from the other end of the spectrum described the conclave as a bunch of thugs in a room, deciding how to keep their criminal enterprise going. Ouch! But some truth there.
In last week's blog post, I said and still believe that our "ace in the hole" is the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis) adhered to the official line in opposing contraception and gay marriage in Argentina. So, do we cross these critical issues off the table and wait for Pope Francis II? Will this pope be strong and stubborn enough to enforce a zero-tolerance policy on clergy sex abuse throughout the world? Will he right the fiscal/moral ship within the walls of his spacious new Vatican home (where he'll never again cook his own meals or take public transportation to work). I'm willing to wait and see what the Holy Spirit has up her sleeve.
Meanwhile, the Catholic world goes on, with or without wise leadership at the top. The conscience of the whole People of God (affirmed by Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI in 1967) listens to God's voice and evolves toward greater inclusion and equality.
In choosing St. Francis of Assisi as his patron and now namesake, our new pope has set his bar of reform and conversion very high, indeed. I, for one, will be praying that our pope will be as bold as the little man from Assisi. Maybe one day he'll even strip to his skivvies in St. Peter's Square and declare a personal fast from abuse of power, exclusion, and inequality. And maybe he'll once again bow and beg our blessing, saying, "Don't be an idiot. I am not God, only the finger that points to God."
Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of