As we reach the two-year mark of the papacy of Pope Francis and look back it is undoubtedly a stunning view.
I often find myself in conversation about the Pope, frequently with non-Catholics who are inspired and intrigued by him. Of course, he’s amazingly popular among Catholics as well. In the United States alone his favorability among practicing Catholics rivals that of ice cream and chocolate.
And yet there are many Catholics who, while they might like him, are also critical. For my more progressive friends, he’s not doing enough. For my more conservative friends, he’s doing too much. And, at the end of the day, I think they are all wrong. This makes me especially popular at dinner parties.
Francis is a rare kind of pope, a type we haven’t seen in a very long time, if ever. He is pastoral, energetic, approachable, down-to-earth, joyful, funny, hope filled and at times most prophetic. I would argue that he is also incredibly smart, strategic and politically savvy, which makes his detractors so weary.
Each pope has his strengths and weaknesses. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is a brilliant theologian and has been throughout his life. Pope John Paul II began his long pontificate with incredible pastoral energy and engaged and inspired young people more than any modern pope has until now.
But there is no doubt that the world was ready for Pope Francis and what he is bringing to the Church. After decades of doctrinal rigidity, he has called for mercy and love. He has demanded that the members of the hierarchy serving the Church do so as shepherds that smell like their sheep and not as princes counting their fine wool sweaters. He has a vision of the Church as a field hospital triaging the complex lives of the faithful that walk through its doors.
And he has backed up his words with action. The people of Chicago and San Diego, for instance, now have incredible pastoral leaders serving them. Other, more out-of-touch prelates like Germany’s “bishop of bling” and embattled Cardinal Raymond Burke have both been pulled from their previous posts and demoted. The Pope continues to make significant reforms throughout the curia, all of which will take a great deal of time and patience following years of mismanagement and abuse.
Has he done enough to bring about full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Church? No. But he’s come further than anyone has or would have. Is there more work to be done considering the place of women in the leadership of the Church? Most definitely. And the list of reforms and issues goes on and on.
However, there is no doubt that in two short years, the Holy Father has done much to return the Church to its roots as a people concerned with the Gospel values of justice, mercy and peace. In the Pope the poor, marginalized and oppressed have a true friend, and his witness and direct actions are having an impact on all of us. If they haven’t had an impact on you, you need to ask yourself why not.
And, at the end of the day, that was my greatest hope when the Conclave gathered two years ago. I prayed that the cardinals would elect, and God would bring to us, a pontiff who was truly devoted to ensuring that the poor came first and that our Church would be a place of mercy, hope and love. Through his actions and his words, we have such a servant leader.
After all, if we aren’t doing that right—if we aren’t a poor Church serving the poor before all else, we can’t expect to do much else. And we certainly can’t expect to preach the gospel with a straight face.
There is much work left to do, and the Catholic Church is not a fast-moving operation. But I remain hopeful today and am so very grateful for the gift of Pope Francis.