The remarkable Pope Francis: gays and lepers of old
Pope Francis, a very modest man, would surely deprecate any effort to compare him to St. Francis of Assisi. Still, I can’t help but wonder: What will this remarkable new pontiff do next?
How much significance is the world to attach to Pope Francis’s extraordinary statement on Monday that it was not for him “to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?” And then: “You can’t marginalize these people.”
The pope was responding to a reporters’ questions on gays in the ranks of Catholic clergy. Traditionalists and critics alike were quick to point out that at the same time, the pope reaffirmed church teaching by calling homosexual acts a sin. But the fact remains that this is the first time in history that a pope has spoken out in defense of gay priests.
To me, it is an event so dramatic as -- well -- as to recall St. Francis of Assisi kissing lepers.
Those who know something of the life of St. Francis know that he was the son of a wealthy merchant who, as a young man, loved to party and dreamed of winning glory and riches as a knight. But over time, to the amazement (and sharp disapproval) of his family and friends, he became a man consumed with an overwhelming hunger for God.
One day, while trying to discover God’s purpose for his life, he met a leper on the road. Francis, still a shallow young man who loved beauty and hated ugliness and uncleanness of any kind, was thoroughly disgusted. Nevertheless, he forced himself to dismount from his horse and kiss the leper.
Later, he would write: “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God himself let me into their company, and I had pity on them. When I became acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became a source of spiritual and physical consolation for me.”
Francis wrote that God had led him into the company of lepers because when he re-mounted his horse and rode away, he turned around for a last look at the leper he had just kissed. But the leper had disappeared. At that moment, Francis was seized by the conviction that the leper had been Christ, and that Christ had just given him a test.
He may have been right. Because if it was indeed a test, he must have passed with flying colors. Shortly thereafter, while praying at the ruined church of San Damiano, he got the call he was seeking. Christ told him, “Francis, repair my church.”
The upshot was that Francis not only founded the religious order that bears his name, he sparked a religious revival that shook 13th Century Europe and reverberates to the present day.
Pope Francis, who is by all accounts a very modest man, would surely deprecate any effort to compare him to St. Francis of Assisi. Still, I can’t help but wonder: What will this remarkable new pontiff do next?
This article first appeared on Pundit Wire. Hal Gordon, who wrote speeches for the Reagan White House and Gen. Colin Powell, is currently a freelance speechwriter in Houston
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