Observations, Religion.

To the power of love

Pope Francis, recently elected, has my attention and admiration.  I must admit to having been uninterested in those men who have occupied the papacy during my lifetime; I am not a Catholic, nor particularly religious for that matter.   But Francis seems different: He has humbly eschewed the pomp of the office, worries aloud and often about the poor, opens the door to all, emphasizes a loving attitude towards homosexuals (contrary to so many fundamentalists of various religions), openly questions the excesses of the marketplace, has recently taken steps to deal more honestly with the pedophilia issues within his Church, and emphasizes much more the mystery of God rather than the rigid confines of orthodoxy and doctrine. (John XXIII is one other worthy of mention, but one I am only now learning about.)

Francis actually seems to have taken the precepts of Christ to heart!  This seems a rare thing, not only in papal history, but in the public behavior of religious leaders in my lifetime and in my own country, the United States.  Too often these religious leaders exercise their public voices and whatever earthly powers they have in what comes across as narrowly self-serving, issuing forth harsh dictates and promoting unfeeling political stances that seem distant from the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount; perhaps it is no surprise that many of these same religious leaders have accumulated considerable personal wealth in the pursuit of their calling, and not limited to just the floggers of the Prosperity Gospel. Francis is a very welcome change; he wields the secular wealth of the Vatican with so far what appears to be an eye towards the poor and downtrodden rather than the consolidation of Church power, an ugly recent manifestation of which is to try to hide the long-time abuse of children by priests and bishops so as to protect position and wealth rather than protecting the most vulnerable, the children.  It may be no accident that he is the first pope to be elected from South America, which is poorer than Europe, where the Catholic traditions hew closer to the care for the poor, is the birthplace of liberation theology and where internal Church political battles have been fought over what has been perceived as insular and uncaring Vatican policies.

Martin Luther King suggested, in a speech addressing the exercise of political and social power, that: "Power properly understood is … the strength required to bring about social political, and economic change … One of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites - polar opposites- so that love is identified with the resignation of power and power with the denial of love. Now we’ve got to get this thing right … Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic … It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our time."(Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here, Address to the SDLC, 1967) 

The phrase to the power of love can be visualized mathematically:  Love acting exponentially, as the independent variable in an exponential equation, with the dependent variable as unselfishly, hopefully applied power.  It can also be construed as a toast:  To the power of love.  To Pope Francis, who seems to understand that the power of love is the best of what Christ offered and that this love is what he and his followers in Christ would express to their communities around them, he with the economic and persuasive engine of the Catholic Church, and they with the power that they wield personally and collectively, privately and in the political sphere.

 

Notes

1. James Carroll wrote recently in the New Yorker an excellent profile of Francis entitled Who am I to Judge? on the radical pope’s new year.

2. Andrew Sullivan recently asked the question: What is the meaning of Pope Francis? in his Deep Dish offering entitled Untier of Knots.  This is a superb exploration by a Catholic writer of the real difference Francis brings to his religion, and Andrew suggests, to the rest of the world.

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