Call it the Francis factor, the Francis effect or a “new Vatican springtime,” but a new energy is in the air — and it’s floating on a breeze coming from the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where Pope Francis has taken up residence.
The 76-year-old Argentine, who just passed the 100-day mark of his pontificate and is now approaching his first international trip as pontiff (to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day at the end of July), has infused new vigor into the Church since his election March 13. This, of course, in no way reflects negatively on the pontificate of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who blessed the Church with a rich intellectual-based teaching of the Faith. But Francis doesn’t teach so much as preach. His voice is strongly prophetic, but he speaks in simple sentences that have attracted a broad following. He is evangelizing without ever using the word.
If you thought Pope Francis’ ‘reformation’ of the Church would begin with the first meeting of a task force of cardinals scheduled for October, think again.
The “Francis factor” is an evangelical get-up-and-go, led by a man who has demonstrated a consistent authenticity to life and the Gospel. His actions and words bring us back to basics. He has energized many with his pleas for an end to sweatshops and world hunger. He has spoken out against gossip, sin, careerism and clericalism. He purposely avoids any kind of splendor. And he reminds us that the devil and all his temptations are real.
That attitude has resonated with Catholics — even those who might be considered “fallen-away.” A news story shortly after Pope Francis’ election cited a priest in Boulder, Colo., who said five people told him they were returning to the Church because of the new pontiff. Many other priests have reported an uptick in confessions.
If you thought Pope Francis’ “reformation” of the Church would begin with the first meeting of a task force of cardinals scheduled for October, think again. This is a pope who has been reforming since Day One and who has been modeling authentic Catholic life. His message extends to the Church hierarchy as well. Most recently, Francis told a gathering of apostolic nuncios to be on the lookout for potential bishops who would be pastors first — those who are “close to the people” and who do not seek out the role for its power.
In a recent blog post, veteran Vatican reporter John Thavis said: “The pope is evangelizing the Vatican. He’s laying the spiritual groundwork for reform by preaching the Gospel in his own backyard.”
In this time when so much seems to be dividing the Church, Pope Francis leads with the good. As Father Robert Barron, founder of the global media ministry Word on Fire, said recently in a talk: When bringing others to the Faith, it is imperative to “lead with beauty” — to first show the rich, vast goodness the Church has to offer.
Francis, often during unscripted morning Masses, takes advantage daily of offering a glimpse of this beauty. All of us are sinners, he said recently, but even as sinners we “go forward with the Lord ... [who] does not leave us alone, not ever!”
Father Barron told OSV June 20 that Pope Francis “has a real feel … for how to do basic evangelization. He does that joyfully. But he’s a tough guy when he has to be.”
This, then, is our call: to evangelize to the world around us using “the Francis factor” as our guide. To approach the Faith with a renewed energy, zeal, joy and beauty, yet to be tough when we have to be. To stand up for injustice, to strip ourselves of our earthly treasures. And, above all, to mirror the pontiff’s authenticity, his love for the Gospel and his love for Jesus Christ.