By now this turn of events is hardly cutting edge news. We have heard about the Argentinian pope. So, too, have we heard of his choice of a name, which is Francis. With time, further elaboration ties this Francis to probably the greatest Francis who ever lived: Francis of Assisi.
That old Francis is remembered for his love of God’s creatures, his otherworldliness, his care for the poor, and for simply being a holy man. His life is a marker of something very potent in the story of the church.
We look at the short stretch of history in which we live and assume that we are part of some long, linear progression in one direction. Thus, we assume that everyone was a committed Christian back in the past and that the church has lost and continues to lose ground in inexorable fashion over the centuries. But this is not so. The church waxes and wanes. It is sometimes very clear and penetrating in its prophetic challenge to the broader society. At other times, it becomes very worldly and comfortable with the establishment. Oddly enough, we tend to see its worldly successes as the time of its greatest impact. But the opposite is the case.
In those times when the church operates just like any other important institution wielding power in predictable ways, we see that individuals rise up and begin to call Christ’s own to return. Return to God. Follow Him. Stop resting on the ways of the world. Protestants look at Martin Luther as one of those people. But there are others. Francis of Assisi was one of them.
Perhaps this Francis will take his place in the ranks of the great reformers. May it be so. We Christians are watching.