So much for the online movement to have Miley Cyrus named Person of the Year.
Time magazine ignored the posts and videos and took another tack — Pope Francis.
Time’s annual anointing remains relevant, even if print magazines really aren’t anymore — and Francis has drawn the attention even of non-Catholics for what seems to be a departure in how the pope sees the rest of the world, not to mention his office.
It’s curious, though, that when a spiritual leader actually lives up to the doctrines and teaching upon which his church was founded, he is hailed as revolutionary.
Actually, the message of the church with a small “c” was from the first meant to be countercultural.
So to have Francis lauded because of his work with the poor, for his message of inclusion rather than division, for being both the leader of two billion Catholics worldwide and a Person of the Year who holds a disfigured man and kisses the feet of women prisoners seems surprising.
But is it, really?
Similar adulation was also directed at the memory of Nelson Mandela.
It’s a measure of our times that such men are elevated for doing as they feel they must.
Our world is so dominated by corruption, greed and violence, by rampant and mindless sexual exploitation, by the cult of celebrity and narcissism of the almighty Self, that seeing another person live out a holy calling — an inner direction mostly foreign to our modern minds and jaded hearts — strikes us as monumental.
Pope Francis, at age 77, is having that kind of effect — just by demonstrating kindness, forgiveness and mercy, the very qualities of the gospel message he has vowed to uphold. The effect seems to cut across religions, ethnicities, nationalities, even if some overly religious folks are suspicious Francis might be watering down church tenets.
Which really isn’t true, as he continues to give the same answers on questions such as female priests: “We need to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman,” he wrote recently. Meaning, no.
Nor does he accept abortion, because he believes, as his Church does, an individual life begins at conception.While opening the doors of compassion to gay people, he also teaches that gay marriage is wrong, because the male-female bond is established by God.
And then he says, “The teaching of the church is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about those issues all the time.”
In other words, “argue less, accomplish more.”
When he was Cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was known for visiting the squalid slums of his city, traveling alone, often on foot, never finding a place too desperate or hopeless to visit. Bergoglio had a common request for the common people he would meet in these places: Reza por mí. Pray for me.
The still-new Pope eschews the royal trappings of his predecessor. He dresses and lives simply. At night, he is known to roam the streets of his new and ancient city, Rome, and minister to the homeless.
And yet, our cynicism knows no bounds; the latest scandals and the depravity are met with shrugs. What else is new? The other shoe, even the fisherman’s, is sure to drop.
The only explanation we can find for the fascination with Francis is that people are thirsting for inspiration and, even, their own higher calling.
Who is this man?
From Time’s Person of the Year cover story:
“When, on March 13, Bergoglio inherited the throne of St. Peter—keeper of the keys to the kingdom of heaven—he made the same request of the world. Pray for me. His letter of retirement, a requirement of all bishops 75 and older, was already on file in a Vatican office, awaiting approval. Friends in Argentina had perceived him to be slowing down, like a spent force. In an instant, he was a new man, calling himself Francis after the humble saint from Assisi …
“… In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church—the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world—above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors … if somehow by his own vivid example Francis could bring the church into a new relationship with its critics and dissidents—agreeing to disagree about issues that divide them while cooperating in the urgent mission of spreading mercy—he might unleash untold good.”