Thursday, March 14, 2013

What's in a Name? Francis

             Like many who heard the announcement of our new Pope's name (I was able to make out that bit of Latin), Saint Francis of Assisi quickly came to mind.  Seeing the gentle Pontiff humbly request the blessing of the people of Rome I thought, "perfect," though I was a little surprised that a Jesuit chose the name of the founder of an at least historically rival order. A parishioner later reminded that we have several Saints named Francis in our hagiography, not the least of which are the great missionary Saint Francis Xavier (a Jesuit) and the renowned servant of the poor, Saint Francis de Sales. The Vatican Press Office later confirmed, however, that the Holy Father's chosen name is, in fact, in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.
          So what's in the name Francis?  First, in honoring Saint Francis, the Holy Father is no doubt calling for a return to simplicity.  We could see that motive in action from our first glance of Pope Francis on the Loge as he appeared dressed in a simple white cassock (without any of the other papal regalia we usually see at the announcement of the new pope), wearing his own simple pectoral cross (not a bejeweled cross typically worn by popes).  Second, by choosing the name of the founder of another religious order, the Holy Father is bridging divides.  It's not Jesuits or Franciscans, it's both and more.

          Lastly, and most significantly to me, the name Francis recalls the conversion of Saint Francis.  You will recall that Saint Francis was born into great wealth.  He lived a privileged life in military service and commerce.  Over time, he began to struggle with his status in life, and he prayed for liberation from his desire for fame, glory and wealth (not unlike Saint Ignatius - the founder of the Jesuits - by the way).  One day Francis found himself praying before the crucifix in the ruins of the Church in San Damiano.  Christ spoke to Francis from the crucifix saying, "Francis, fix my Church."  Francis' ministry began with those words, and so does the ministry of our new Holy Father.

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