Who better to lead the Catholic Church through tumultuous times than one of “God's Marines.” The Jesuits have been called that affectionately referring to their founder's military background and their own willingness to accept orders. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder, wrote the founding principles which are contained in the document Formula of the Institute. Here is the opening statement:
"Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the Name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth, should, after a solemn vow of perpetual chastity, poverty and obedience, keep what follows in mind. He is a member of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defense and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine, by means of public preaching, lectures and any other ministration whatsoever of the Word of God, and further by means of retreats, the education of children and unlettered persons in Christianity, and the spiritual consolation of Christ's faithful through hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments. Moreover, he should show himself ready to reconcile the estranged, compassionately assist and serve those who are in prisons or hospitals, and indeed, to perform any other works of charity, according to what will seem expedient for the glory of God and the common good".
This then, is who Pope Francis is. His life has personified these ideals. He doesn't surround himself with the trappings of luxury as so many other cardinals have. He uses buses and fixes his own meals. He is opposed to gay marriage but he has washed the feet of AIDS patients as a gesture of compassion and humility. And even though he is one of God's Marines, he has taken on the mantel of Francis of Assisi who wrote the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. He praises the Lord through the actions of the Lord's creations. In many ways, the Franciscan ideals appear to be the total opposite of the cloak worn by the Jesuits. However, looking at the opening of the Rule of St. Francis, we see the similarity to the Jesuits:
The rule and life of the lesser brothers is this: To observe the holy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience without anything of our own, and in chastity. Brother Francis promises obedience and reverence to the Lord Pope Honorius and his canonically elected successors, and to the Roman Church; and the rest of the brothers are obliged to obey Francis and his successors.
While these insights help to know Francis the Pope, they only hint at Francis the Man. He graduated from a technical high school as a chemical technician. It wasn't until later, at age 21, that he decided to become a priest. He taught literature and psychology at a high school. He has served on various task forces, improving his skills as an administrator. There has been controversy concerning his actions during the military dictatorship of the 1970s. However, it appears the criticisms stem from rumor rather than fact.
It will be interesting to see how he decides to guide the lives of Catholics. Will he change the rules about priests not marrying? It would seem that if he followed his own lifestyle, he would tell priests to man up to their commitments. But that does not sound like the reaction of a compassionate man who seems to understand the needs of his fellow man. Will he allow nuns to become priests? This is not impossible for someone who has lived as God's Marine. Although this may take longer to come about. He is committed to opposing abortion and euthanasia. Some who believes so strongly in the sanctity of human life is not going to change his position. But I suspect he may have open discussions on birth control and medical marijuana.
It's an interesting combination and one that should provide excitement over the next few years – God's Marine and God's Hippie (or tree hugger). It is probably what is needed to energize the Catholic Church at this time.