Is the Pope Obsolete?
Judging by the surrounding stink of sexual abuse scandals, financial corruption and the intractable bureaucracy in the upper echelons of the Vatican under the European old guard, it’s been heading that way…fast. But the Cardinal conclave’s stunning decision to elect a simple man of the Jesuit order from South America may very well reverse the trend.
In fact, Pope Francis could even become a role model for the world – Catholic and non-Catholic alike – if he cleans house and continues to exhibit the kind of compassion and humility he’s shown throughout his career. So far so good as, over these past few days, he’s eschewed the Pope-mobile, ridden the bus with the rest of the cardinals and cleaned out his hotel room while paying his own bill.
According to those who know him, he’s lived and breathed the Jesuit principles, dedicating his entire existence to the cause of education and social justice. He’s long insisted on being called just “Father Jorge” despite his rank in the church. He gave up the archbishop’s palace and lived in a modest apartment, taking public transportation while embracing a vow of poverty. In other words, he’s lived by the principles of his papal namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, something we almost never see in this age of entitlement and greed.
But the question remains: Is a moral figurehead necessary today? Why, in this secular age, do we even need a man like Jorge Mario Bergoglio? Why should we care?
For the very same reasons we feel a sense of disgust, disillusion and despair over the recent state of the Catholic Church – because the multi-billion dollar institution is a not-so-micro microcosm of the rest of the world, where corruption, hypocrisy and self-interest rule.
We’ve been living in a vacuum of moral authority, with few people out there to admire or inspire us. We desperately need an antidote to the kind of moral turpitude that pervades Wall Street, the White House, and just about every other major institution. These days everyone, whether they consider themselves religious or not, could use a leader and a role model who raises the bar for what is considered good and right. Based on the life he’s led, it sounds like Pope Francis is that guy.
We still need some kind of faith, even though we think we do not. We see religion as passé without realizing what it gives besides heaven and hell and the promise of life after death. What it gives us today is a list of moral imperatives, a sense of community and, above all, hope.
As a mental health practitioner, if I could find a way to package and dispense faith and hope, I would have a pill more powerful than any antidepressant on the market.
Hope is the belief that circumstances WILL get better. It's not a wish for things to get better, or a thought that maybe they will get better. It's exemplified when at age 55 you suddenly lose your home, car, savings -- everything material, but you still have your health and family, coupled with the belief that you can, and will, start over. It’s also the conviction that human beings are fundamentally better than what we see in the news every day.
The common man, who Pope Francis represents, is capable of great acts of compassion and kindness, no matter where he is from or what his religious view. You don’t even need to belong to a church or pray to God to celebrate the fact that a man like Pope Francis can rise to the highest level of the Catholic Church. All you need is faith: the belief that there is something bigger and more important than you. Whether it's God, a higher power, a child, a loved one, a mission or a cause, it is a reason to go on that has nothing to do with you.
The Catholic Church still faces countless challenges as to its relevance in the modern, increasingly secular world. But the first step is getting your own house in order and the best way to do that is to lead by example. Pope Francis is enough to give all of us hope.