Francis I: Can a Simple Name Simply Change the World?

Mom and me at the Sistine Chapel, 1972
Fashionistas: Mom and me at the Sistine Chapel, 1972

It already has. Merely hearing it in Saint Peter’s Square brought a collective sign of relief and delight the world over. Compassion is officially back in style.

Last night the second most powerful man on Earth, the newly anointed Pope Francis I, slipped onto the bus to go to dinner with his brother Cardinals; this morning he slipped through a side door of a church to pray. For as long as it is possible, it seems, he will not be chauffered and feted. He will engage and move among his people, a Holy Father in the best way. With each act of humility, I hear spiritual and literal moneychanger’s tables being overturned. It is not as though the trappings of the Church are not beautiful, but they have come to be seen as just that: traps that ensnare the innocent and that shield men from blame and accountability in the things that matter most – the care of the flock. In recent years, the Vatican and its treasures have come to be seen as glorifying a hierarchy out of touch with its people, too hobbled by its own traditions to spread a gospel of compassion. Maybe now we can look at at the art, architecture and rituals again as a gift of holy culture that embraced (and funded) talent and artisanship instead of the folly of men.

Our local pastor is our own Francis – a beacon of wisdom and kindness who reminds us how Christ’s lessons can inform our everyday lives. It has been difficult for my children to reconcile what they see and hear at Mass and what they see in the press, and I haven’t been very good at that myself. In this Lenten season, I welcome – and take to heart – the promise of the Resurrection that Easter brings with fervor I thought long gone. Maybe now I will have more help building athe Catholic spiritual legacy that has for so long seemed elusive.

Ten Signs I Have Clearly Arrived at Middle Age

I always wanted to do what my older brothers and sisters were doing; I couldn’t wait to reach the next milestone. Not any more. Here are just 10 of the  many facets of my rude awakening:

Does she or doesn't she? She doesn't.
Does she or doesn’t she? I don’t.
  • My mid-life crisis began at the same time as the financial crisis in 2008, but only one of them has ended.
  • I’m no longer prematurely gray. It’s just gray. All of it.
  • I used to explain pop culture references to my kids; now they explain them to me.
  • I have two kinds of contact lenses – one bifocal, one regular – but I usually just wear my glasses and squint a lot.
  • I use scissors to open everything. Everything.
  • I now like grapefruit juice and black coffee.
  • At the school play many people assume that I am there as a grandparent.
  • I would rather watch Downton Abbey than Breaking Bad.
  • I fall asleep during the first musical guest on SNL, regardless of who the host is.
  • The sweaters I brought home as keepsakes from my 80-year-old mother in 2003 are starting to look good on me.
Mom and me, 1972
Mom and me, 1972

Oh, yes,  there are wonderful things: children old enough to help out and talk about everything with, decades-old friends and memories, a whole lot of perspective about what matters, not getting carded. While I can’t say the same about myself, I think my mother was at her most beautiful when she was the age I am now. Her life was completely crazy then, I know now, but all I remember from that period was her confidence and style though my nine-year old eyes. And as the years went on she never shrank back, never gave up, always stayed current and engaged with the world.

If she were here today she would be glued to the TV, doing her own analysis and pontificating on the Papal conclave. One of my last memories of her, ten years ago, is of her watching the unfolding scandals in the Church and declaring that a new reformation was afoot – even in hospice she was doing color commentary. She wasn’t always right about everything, of course, but she was always interesting. In practically the same breath as she spoke of the Catholic crisis, she confessed to having a crush on Donald Rumsfeld. I hope I’m saying things like that when I’m eighty.

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