Pope Francis: What’s in a Name?

On April 16, 1210, Pope Innocent III had an audience with a beggar.  This beggar travelled long and far by foot to see the Holy Father.  But the pope was troubled by a strange dream from the night before.  In it, he saw the great Cathedral of St. John Lateran collapsing.  But a giant figure of a man was seen holding it up.  This man saved the church.

And to Innocent’s great surprise, that man he saw stood before him on April 16 in beggar’s clothes.  And that beggar’s name was Francis Assisi.  This was the culmination of a long journey that Francis undertook after returning home to Assisi after a year in prison.  Having lost all flavor in his life, he spent much time in a run down, broken chapel.  One day, Christ appeared to him from the cross and said to him, “Francis, rebuild my church.”

Francis, being very humble, believed that God assigned him the task of rebuilding that little Portiuncula.  But as the years went on and more people joined his radical embrace of the Gospel through poverty, chastity, and obedience, Francis and his brothers sought out approval from the Holy Father.

Innocent, recognizing Francis as the man from his dream, got down on his hands and knees and kissed Francis’ feet.  It was an important turning point for the Catholic Church when the pope knelt before the holiness of Francis.

And now the pope IS Francis.

When Cardinal Bergolgio received the necessary votes, a Brazilian cardinal spoke to him.  The newly elected pontiff recalled, “When things became a bit dangerous, he comforted me, and when the vote for me reached the two-thirds majority, a moment in which the cardinals started applauding because they had chosen a Pope, he hugged me, he kissed me, and he said ‘don’t forget the poor’.”

I was moved by how scriptural that statement was.  In Galatians, Paul recounts how he went to Peter and the leaders in Jerusalem and asked permission to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.  Paul says, “They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.” (Gal 2:10)

The poor are never to be neglected by the Christian, and we have a pope who reminds us of this.  Matthew 25 speaks of the final judgment where those who are damned are sent to perdition not for the evil they have done, but for their neglect of the poor.

Pope Francis went on to say, “It was then that I thought of Saint Francis. And then I thought of wars and about peace and that’s how the name came to me – a man of peace, a poor man … and how I would like a church of the poor, for the poor.”

For many years the Catholic Church has been criticized for its wealth and worldliness.  Some have come from enemies who would attack us for any reason.  But this note has come from others like Dorothy Day and Francis of Assisi.  They not how closely our Lord embraced poverty so that He could better minister to the poor.

And this speaks also to his view of the New Evangelization.  He mentioned evangelizing in his opening remarks, and that was not unnoticed.  His picking the name Francis recalls the following famous story:

A young friar asked Francis for advice on preaching.  So early the next morning, Francis brought the young friar around to the towns and country performing great acts of charity, all the while not saying anything.  At the end of the day, the friar was confused and asked Francis when he was going to teach him how to preach.  Francis looked at him and said, “Preach the Gospel always.  And if necessary, use words.”

Our lives may be the only Gospel some people read.  There are those who will never read a single word that the new Holy Father writes.  But they can see him.  They can see him appear on the balcony in his simple cassock, with a cross not made of gold.  They can see him riding a simple bus with his brother cardinals.  They can see him paying for his own hotel bill with his own money.  They can see a man who lives simply because he knows that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit.

When Innocent kissed the feet of Francis, he started the slow chain reaction that led to the pope becoming Francis himself.  Now, in this broken world, Pope Francis must rebuild His church.

Copyright © 2013, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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