For obvious reasons I am pleased as punch that the new Pope has taken the name “Francis’. But I do find myself at little puzzled that the mass media’s take on the name assumes that there is an intrinsic connection between St. Francis of Assisi and concern for the poor. My only qualification for an opinion is that I have found it necessary to preach on St. Francis at our patronal feast for twenty years or so. St. Francis is not actually known for his care of the poor but to the contrary his love of poverty. An obvious choice for a patron saint of the relief of the poor would be St. Vincent de Paul But St. Francis wanted for his friars and for the whole Church that they should be poor.
Pope Francis is notable not only because he calls the Church to care and concern for the poor but especially because he seems himself to have embraced poverty. All that we hear about his episcopate and life in Argentina bears this out: simplicity of room and board, of travel and life style. His is not the NGO approach to service to the needy, service at arm’s length in the comfort of an air conditioned room well stocked with all the amenities. Somehow the advocates for Government assistance to the poor never want to be poor themselves. But Pope Francis is something much more impressive: being himself poor. That is newsworthy.
Pope Francis’ motto says a lot: “Vidit ergo Iesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, ‘Sequere me’.
Jesus, therefore, saw the publican, and because he saw by having mercy and by choosing, He said to him, ‘Follow me’”. (Thanks to Fr. Z for text and translation from the Venerable Bede’s Commentary on Matthew 9.)
The mercy belongs to Jesus and He choose Matthew and called Matthew to follow him. Such is the ambition of Pope Francis.