When Pope Benedict XVI resigned from his position in February 2013, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years, the world and the 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic Church watched and waited for the white smoke to rise from the Vatican chimney. While everyone figured a new pope would be selected, it would seem that most expected more of the same traditional values to be upheld by the church, historically staunchly conservative when it came to social issues. Whether the selection was purely divine or simply coincidence, Pope Francis has shaken up the status quo and has thus far shown no inclination to uphold old views that more often alienate people. His motto, by all appearances, is for the common good.
In the two and a half years since his papal inauguration, he has caused some major shockwaves. He has confronted the “cult of money,” emphasizing the need for more ethics in finance. He criticized the church’s obsession with abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage, adding that he would not speak on those issues. He expressed that he wanted the church to be inclusive and a “home for all.” He shook up the structure of the church, replacing traditionalists with moderates in discussions over the Vatican’s decision-making process. He brought divorce into the spotlight, that the church should change its view on it and be more accepting. He’s stepped up the church’s accountability in sex abuse cases. He called for radical transformation in social, economic and political arenas to confront climate change and blamed apathy, irresponsible pursuit of profits, extreme faith in technology and political thoughtlessness. And that’s just a handful of the nontraditional calls to action coming from the pope and the Roman Catholic Church — and it hasn’t necessarily been accepted by the more conservative church leaders. Pope Francis is anything but orthodox and that’s a good thing … if not vital.
As Pope Francis begins a six-day tour in the United States this week, it’s a great time to reflect on our contribution to the common good, on our ability to stand for ideals that bring us together rather than setting us apart and often against each other. Seeing the 1.2 billion people the Pope stands to anger with his more radical perspectives, we have few excuses not to aim to be better, more reasonable people. The only excuse is ignorance and that’s just barely acceptable these days.
“It is the responsibility of the State to safeguard and promote the common good of society. Based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and fully committed to political dialogue and consensus building, it plays a fundamental role, one which cannot be delegated, in working for the integral development of all.” — Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis, 2013