Again and again and again, ever since he ascended to the papacy, Pope Francis has dazzled the world.
It literally started on day 1. I remember reading about the election of this new, South American Pope, and how after his election the man turned down the papal limousine to ride back to his hotel on a bus with the rest of the cardinals. A few days later he decided not to move into the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace - instead he'd just stay on in a Vatican guesthouse.
And his humble, likable, and surprising style has been pretty consistent ever since. It seems like every week or so you'll see another report in the news from some journalist stunned by something Francis has done or said.
The most recent story focused on the Pope's compassion for a man suffering from severe boils all over his body. You may remember this moment: Francis spotted the man in the crowds, hugged him, kissed him, and prayed for him. And the world was in awe.
Now a new story about Francis is starting to circulate. The official Vatican alms-giver - whom Francis encouraged to "sell your desk. You don't need it. You need to get out of the Vatican. You need to go out and look for the poor." - hinted in an interview this week that Pope Francis may have actually sneaked out of the Vatican at night to give alms to the poor on the streets of Rome, something he had done before when living in Buenos Aires. There hasn't been any kind of confirmation of this that I know of, but it would certainly fit Francis's MO.
I don't know when (if ever) the Roman Catholic Church has received so much good publicity. Certainly no time in recent years. Francis is living up to his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most beloved and respected figures in Christian history, a man known for his humility and love. And all of these stories leave me wishing... not so much that I were Roman Catholic, but that Francis was a 'United Methodist Pope', so to speak. I'd be proud to be more directly affiliated with the man, and it would be thrilling to be a part of a church whose leadership has that kind of reputation.
Of course, the crazy part is that this man is dazzling the world simply by following Jesus. Following Jesus in the public eye, obviously, but that's really all there is to it.
And that makes me wonder. Why doesn't the UMC have this kind of reputation? What are our leaders doing that makes the news, and what should they be doing? And what could happen if I committed myself to those simple, powerful acts of love and humility that can dazzle? What if you did?
I don't think that what we're seeing with Francis is some kind of anomaly. I believe that the Christian life, a life spent following Jesus, really is a beautiful thing. Some folks would scoff at this, but I believe the Church really is a beautiful thing. All Pope Francis is doing is faithfully embodying the Church's mission. He's showing us what the Church looks like when it's true to itself.
And the world's in awe. I can't tell you how many times I've looked at the comments following these news stories - and remember, comments in stories about the Church online are usually pretty ugly - and seen things like 'he almost makes we want to go back to the church' or 'I'm an atheist, but...'
The faithful Christian life is a beautiful, moving thing to see.
And it makes me wonder.
What can I do, what can you do, what changes could I make in my life that might show the world around me just how beautiful this faith really is? Because there is untapped beauty in God's Church, and the only way it can shine through and dazzle the world is if Christians, with our attitudes and our words and our actions, set it loose.