Having strayed from Catholicism since my early teens, I am now reconsidering since the anointment of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis. Despite my youthful naiveté, I couldn't reconcile the inconsistencies and contradictions of the faith. Until my epiphany, I was very devout and always lived under a cloud of fear as good Catholics do oh those treacherous mine fields of sins.
I was first in my class Catechism spelling bee competition runoff which decided who would represent our school in the sectionals. Interestingly, the runner-up was selected to go. At age 10, I didn't understand why, but subsequent brushes with harsh realities unfolded this mystery.
In my youth, I struggled with the premise that God was omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent yet there is so much crime, destruction, killing, war, pestilence, hate, immorality, bigotry, greed and anguish. If He knows all, is everywhere and is all powerful, why does He let this happen? Some have explained that this is the work of Satan. Does this mean God really isn't omnipotent if he can't stop Satan? No, I was told God gave man free will and he can choose his own path Him or Satan, good or evil. This was a test of one's worthiness to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
But if God is the creator and created us in His image, why does He have to test His creation? He could have created us to be perfect but didn't. By giving us free will and testing us, is He playing a game much like the gods of Greek mythology? Those with whom I've spoken have yet to explain this conundrum.
Our conversations usually end with "you've got to have faith." To me, statements like this and "God works in mysterious ways" assures the infallibility of God. This is just too convenient. Since we only know God through religious institutions and leaders who claim to represent Him, we transfer infallibility to them.
When infallibility is ceded to institutions and mere mortals we open ourselves up to an abuse of power as history has demonstrated time and again. From before, during, and after the Elizabethan era and period of King Louis of France, religious infallibility is the power behind the Monarchs then and governments today. Like any tool, infallibility can be used constructively or destructively.
Pope Francis renounced many of the opulent trappings of being the Pope. He mingled up close with those in the bowels of poverty, misery and affliction. In his speech, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis spoke as an advocate for the poor, equality, economic and racial justice, fairness, stewardship of the earth and gays. He spoke against hate, bigotry, materialism, extreme consumerism, and greed. All Popes say this but what's significant is the context in which Francis said it.
On the poor, he talked about how unfettered, "greed is good" capitalism is structural cause of poverty. On economic inequality, he said it will constrain global economic growth and lead to more economic crises. On gays, he believed they are also God's children and who is he to judge. With that one statement he freed millions from the yoke to homophobia and gave them license to reject what they already felt was wrong.
On the environment, the Pope admonishes us to protect it from "greed and rapacity" no doubt referencing drilling and fracking. On women and their reproductive rights, the Pope has some work to do.
The Pope's message is still wrought with hypocrisy when you look at the investment portfolio of the Vatican but that doesn't mean he is a hypocrite as long as he follows it with a walk to match the talk. His candid and controversial statements alone are a great stride towards that walk.
To liberals and progressives, his words are hardly controversial and in fact are what Jesus would say. But to the most vocal, self-proclaimed champions of morality, character, responsibility and family values, he has become a pariah. Limbaugh called the Pope a Marxist. Sarah Palin accused the Pope of having a liberal agenda. An NBC news poll revealed that of all the political groups, the Tea Party had the most negative view of the Pope.
It's no wonder Tea Party favorite Rand Paul supports ending unemployment extension to 1.3 million people on Dec. 28 - Happy New Year grasshopper.
For 2014 let's resolve to be more like Francis. This sleeper is a keeper.