Well, that was... unexpected! Here's a few first thoughts on the election of Pope Francis and what was truly for most of us our first encounter with this man last night on the balcony of St. Peter's. Like many, I knew almost nothing about him before last night, and of course the real getting to know our new Holy Father will occur in the weeks and months ahead.
First... enter a pope, leave a cardinal! The saying for conclaves holds true. Jorge Bergoglio (I had to look up the spelling of his last name just now) was on no one's list. What are the chances that at the next conclave the media and pundits will remember this and be a bit less cocksure? Yeah, I don't think so either.
Second, I was moved very deeply by his beginning his papacy by leading us in prayer. Let us pray for Pope Emeritus Benedict... Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be. Simple, childlike prayer, gathering the people of God around the throne of God and under the protection of the Madonna. What more can we ask a shepherd to do?
Third, I was also deeply moved--to the point of tears, truth be told--at his bowing down humbly to ask for our prayers as he begins this daunting task. Again, so simple, so childlike, so poor--'I want you to do something for me.' And how many millions of Catholics around the world at that point were united in praying for this man bowing before us to ask for the alms of our prayers? What a beautiful, gentle way to begin his papacy.
Fourth, and finally, the choice of name. This is deeply symbolic, deeply meaningful. Francis of Assisi, the poor man who rebuilt the Church, not by political games or five-year pastoral plans, but by an example of holiness and voluntary poverty, of prayer and simplicity of life. Or maybe it is Francis Xavier, the heroic Jesuit missionary, the martyr who gave his life to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Or there is Francis de Sales, the great evangelizer of apostate Europe. And the mischievious side of me has to mention St. Francis Borgia, the great Jesuit saint, just for the sake of getting 'Borgia' and 'pope' in the same sentence.
But really, it is Francis of Assisi who I believe he is invoking in his choice of name. Francis, rebuild my Church. The Church today is in terrible disarray, terrible disrepair. It needs rebuilding, desparately. Ecclesia semper reformanda - the Church always needing to be reformed, this is the theme that comes to me in all this.
But this path of reformation must come from holiness of life, purity of prayer, and deep poverty and simplicity of spirit. Let us pray for Pope Francis that he may faithfully follow the Lamb of God in love of the Father and service to God's people, as the Spirit of God leads him to do.