I didn't feel ashamed when he said that atheists can go to heaven. I didn't feel ashamed when he said gays are okay. But I felt ashamed when Pope Francis said this:
"We cannot become starched Christians, too polite, who speak of theology calmly over tea."Because that's me. Substitute coffee for tea, and I would happily sit and sip a tasty beverage while chatting about theology all day long.
Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict didn't make me feel ashamed of myself. I could understand most of what they wrote, so I figured that made me pretty smart. I don't remember them ever saying that being smart and knowing theology just wasn't good enough. I don't remember them saying, as Pope Francis did, that we must go out and touch the poor, touch them with our own hands:
“Do you give alms?
“They tell me, ‘Yes, Father.’
“And when you give alms do you look in the eyes of the people you give them to?
'Oh, I don’t know, I don’t notice.’
“Look, he has not met the people. He threw the alms and left. When he gives the alms, does his hand touch (the hand of the poor) or does he toss the coin?”
“No, you throw the coin. And you have not touched, and if you did not touch him, you did not meet him.”
Pope Francis makes me confront the ugly fear I have of the poor, the sad and dying, the criminal -- the "other." I never wanted to practice criminal law after graduating from law school, because I didn't want to be near criminals. If I defended them and they were dissatisfied with the defense, I reasoned, they would kill me. If I prosecuted them and sent them to jail, they would have someone else kill me.
Pope Francis' courage shows me how mistaken I am in my fear. Pope Francis might have looked afraid when greeting the thousands waiting in Vatican Square to shout his name as the new pope. But he has gone to the prisons and the slums and the streets without fear.
Pope Francis has destroyed my fantasy that Jesus' call to visit those in prison applies only to those wrongly imprisoned, like political prisoners or people jailed for their Christian beliefs. Pope Francis has wrecked my certainty that I have satisfied my obligation to feed the hungry and clothe the naked by feeding my own children and clothing their nakedness. He has undermined my self-satisfaction in the amount of money we tithe. There are more people to serve. There is more work to do.
Pope Francis makes me ashamed because he makes me realize that I am not half as good a Christian as I think I am. But that is not a reason for despair. It's a call to action.