In a move startling and radical to some, the new Catholic pope stunned faithful around the world with his confession that he stole a rosary cross from the casket of a deceased priest in Buenos Aires.
Pope Francis confessed Thursday, March 6th that he took the cross from the late priest’s rosary when he was paying his respects to man known as “the great confessor of Buenos Aires” – a priest who heard confessions from most of the diocesan priests in Buenos Aires as well as Pope John Paul II when he visited Argentina.
When the priest died, the news reports explained, Francis went to pray by the open casket, and was surprised that no one had brought any flowers.
So he brought back a rose bouquet, and realized the priest still held the rosary in his lifeless hands. According to the report, Francis said, “Immediately, there came to mind the thief that we all have inside ourselves. While I arranged the flowers I took the cross… and in that moment I looked at him and said, ‘Give me half your mercy.’”
Francis said he has kept the cross with him for these many years, “And whenever a bad thought comes to mind about someone, my mind goes here, always,” he said, pointing to his heart. “And I feel the grace, and that makes me feel better.”
The importance to both Catholics and Protestants.
The shocking thing about Francis’ confession is not that he stole the cross – but that he revealed himself to be a very ordinary, regular, human being through this action. For centuries, popes and other church leaders have been unfairly elevated to saint-like or god-like status, making them seem not only infallible but incapable of human thoughts, desires, feelings, temptations, etc.
Francis is a human being like everybody else. And by confessing to this indiscretion, he proved himself to be a true “iconoclast” – one who intentionally breaks or destroys icons (holy pictures). In this case, the holy picture is actually a symbol or long-held image of a church leader that is not only unrealistic, but also harmful and detrimental to the worldwide Christian church.
When a leader – any leader, of a church or any organization –is made out to be perfect and without sin, one is asking for trouble. That’s when distortions of the faith occur – like the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis when the national church chose to support Hitler’s despicable political agenda. They made him out to be god-like, a human being who could do no wrong!
The moral for all of us.
Even more important than the issue of putting popes up on pedestals is the lesson Francis’ confession has for all faithful, Christian or Protestant. And that is, as human beings, we do have the ability to sin – more than we like to admit. And that’s what God’s grace is there for.
Francis provided a great example and role model for us: admitting to be human is to confess to one’s shortcomings, and the natural next step is to ask for mercy or grace – not to condone the action, but to realize that God can forgive us, too, just as Jesus forgave the thief who was crucified on the cross next to him.
If more people did that, there would be less tendency for denial, covering up the wrong-doing, going along with it, or rationalizing it so it seems “right” when in fact it is dead wrong. If Francis can admit to his mistakes, so can the rest of the flock.