Pope Francis Puts Franciscans on the Spot

I've been on retreat this week. It was one of the best I've had for several years. I'm grateful for the time, friendship, hospitality and solitude offered by our Interprovincial Novitiate in Santa Ynez, California for this opportunity. The Midwest Capuchins' own Bro. Joachim Strupp lives there in retirement. He's a quiet man, not known for instigating controversy. So, I was surprised to hear several novices over meals recount some of his one-liners offered during homilies. Joachim's pithy phrases got them thinking. I heard one myself on the last day of my retreat. I don't remember much else about the homily (isn't that often the case?), but this one line from Joachim has filled my thoughts for a couple days now: Joachim Strupp "Pope Francis puts us Franciscans on the spot!" (The exclamation point is mine; Joachim seldom speaks in the exclamatory.) There is lots of joy and hope in the air about Pope Francis. That's a very common occurrence when anyone of importance is newly elected. Think of how our own American presidents have about 100 days before the glow of election begins to fade. But, there truly appears to be something different about this pope, perhaps just as something different seemed to be going on when Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope John XXIII. It seems to be more than media hype, as proved true with Roncalli. What's coming out of Pope Francis has to flow out of some deep roots inside him. So many new and different things that go against recent papal tradition (with a small "t") keep rising out of the man. Jesuits and Franciscans, of course, are glowing. They are in the limelight. Hometown pride. I'm sure Jesuit and Franciscan vocation directors around the world are trying to figure out how to capitalize on the publicity. But Joachim invites Franciscans to take more important stock. Pope Francis can't be allowed to be a sound bite, and Franciscans shouldn't let their witness to the world be swallowed in self-congratulatory pride. Joachim reminds us that our name is "The Minors." Pride really doesn't look good on us, especially when we're proud of the Minority brand-name. Being proud of our minority needs a different look. Image by Genevieve Noe (1979) at St. Lawrence Friary, Mt. Calvary, Wisconsin Initially, Pope Francis is grabbing the world mostly because he keeps poor people in the picture of the world community. A brother cardinal whispered to him when he was cresting over the magical 77 votes needed to be elected pope, "Don't forget the poor." Pope Francis has not, and he won't let the world forget them either. Franciscans around the world need to be sure that we join the Holy Father in keeping poor people front and center, and not use them to keep us front and center in the media. Pope Francis' inclusion goes beyond the more general category of "the poor." The story about him that I love the most is his instruction to his local priests to baptize the children of single mothers. This situation is really more about the mothers than the children, though the children are the ones who "suffered" in the exclusionary practice. So, Pope Francis is also garnering adulation because he seems to want to find a place for everyone at the table. This kind of inclusion sounds an awful lot like Franciscan sister-brotherhood. Joachim reminds us that the point isn't that we have a Franciscan-spirited pope, but that we who claim the name "Franciscan" are invited to deepen in its meaning. He reminds us to examine if we can find more ways to be with and include poor people, to be more inclusive in our practices, to live more simple lives so as to avoid perceived barriers to common everyday people, and to be willing to do the things we are called to do that we would rather not do.