Heroes and Popes

A view of a street art mural by Italian street artist Maupal which depicts Pope Francis as a superman, flying through the air with his white papal cloak billowing out behind him and holding a bag bearing the word "Values", in downtown Rome near the Vatican on January 28, 2014. The image, created by Italian street artist Maupal, was tweeted today by the Vatican communication twitter account ( @PCCS_VA ). Flying forward with his fist raised, the heroic pontiff -- crucifix swinging in the wind -- carries his trademark black bag, with the word "values" written across it in white. AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” …. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. – Matthew 18:1, 4-5

Superman
Batman
Supergirl
Spider-Man
The Avengers

Superheroes are all the rage these days. Maybe it’s a nostalgic nod to our comic books days. Or maybe the fear engendered by a steady river of global bad news fuels our need for heroes and a narrative in which good really does triumph over evil.

I didn’t read comic books as a kid and I’m not a fan of the current movie craze, but I do understand the need for heroes and the desire for a heroic narrative. And so, I find myself wrapped up the heroic story of a modern-day hero. His name is Pope Francis.

Think about it. He wears a cape. He flies (granted, he needs a plane). And while the Pope-mobile isn’t quite as cool as the Bat-mobile, it’s still pretty cool.

But it’s Pope Francis’ humility and courage that inspire me. He chooses to follow the way of Jesus despite the harsh criticism of those who disagree with him. This past week the Pope took yet another step away from rigid legalism and toward grace and inclusion. While his recent exhortation didn’t change Church doctrine, perhaps it paves the way for divorced and remarried Catholics to come to the communion railing again.

Did the Pope go far enough toward the full inclusion of those who are divorced and remarried? Not from my perspective. We worship a Lord who ate with outcasts and sinners and I believe that our tables should reflect that same welcome to all people. But unlike comic book heroes, real life heroes are often people who patiently and bravely take small steps toward the ending of a story that will continue to unfold beyond their lifetime.

Unlike movie superheroes Pope Francis inspires me because, like me, he’s just an ordinary man. His leadership reminds me that heroism is within the reach of anyone who allows the Spirit to direct their life in the way of Jesus, the way of grace and inclusion.

Want to read more of Pope Francis’ recent statement? Click here.

How is the Spirit moving you toward heroism today?

Jeff Marian is lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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