When I was in college, John Paul II passed away. I remember standing in line at the coffee shop on campus, watching TV as they announced the next pope. It was the first time I had witnessed that in my life and I couldn't help but feel I had watched something important. In the moment, I felt the overwhelming awe of being connected with 1.2 billion other people and a strong sense of hope for the future of the Church.
Eight years or so later, turns out I wasn't 100% wild about this last pope.
Oh, but this next one, Pope Francis? I've got some big hopes and dreams for him.
Admittedly, being Hispanic myself and having graduated from a Jesuit university, I am decidedly biased toward this first ever Hispanic and first ever Jesuit pope. I am excited for this departure from tradition and I am excited for my (distant future) children to think, "Hey! The pope speaks the same language as me!" Furthermore, Pope Francis electing to use the name Francis is also, I hope, a sign of a changes. The name, from Francis of Assisi, has come to represent simplicity, humility, poverty. Accounts of him washing the feet of the often discarded populations only increases my enthusiasm for this pope and his values. I am excited for what I hope will be a continued departure from popedom and Catholicism of recent years and a return to what I think it ought to be about: love lived out.
I have written before about how I believe that to follow Jesus means to care about what He cares about. To rejoice when others rejoice. To hurt when others hurt. To place ourselves among the marginalized and forgotten. To seek justice for those in society who have been pushed aside. To love and to hope beyond reason.
If you are not Catholic, you have probably grown tired of hearing about all this. It's overtaken every news station. It's hard to be enthusiastic about an institution that has hurt many and destroyed others. For all those hurts, I am truly and deeply sorry. It breaks my heart to think about the way the Church has broken the hearts and souls of so many.
Through the years, though, I remain Catholic and hold on to my beliefs. Faith is rarely easy. I'd venture a guess that if it's easy, you're not asking enough questions. But I hold on, despite it all, because of my hope. In the ability of good to prevail over evil. In the knowledge that we are imperfect and that an imperfect church is a reflection of our imperfect selves rather than a reflection of God himself. In the relief that there is something greater than our imperfections out there.
I could be a cynic and in recent years, I have been to an extent. But I'd like not to be. At the end of my life, should it turn out that I was completely misguided in my thinking, I will (hopefully) be left with a life lived with passion, hope and love.
I might be wrong about this pope and the direction the Church could be headed in. For all my unanswered questions, I might be wrong about faith and Jesus and the entire meaning of life. And if I am wrong, at the end of my life, will I be worse off for it? Will I look back and think that I should have loved less, judged more, given of myself less freely, spent less time with the despaired and forgotten? Will I regret believing in the transformative power of hope?
I might be wrong, but then, I just might be right. And whether I'm right or whether I'm wrong, would it change the trajectory of my life?
So I'll continue to take my chances on faith. I'd rather live with love and hope anyways.