What’s in a Name

On Wednesday, we learned that we have a new pope, Francis.

The media discussed a bit about the significance of the name Francis, but I think it needs more unpacking. So, with apologies to my Franciscan friends let me share with you why I think it is a sign of great hope that our new pope chose the name Francis.

Francis was a 13th century Italian. He came from a family of wealth and privilege. As a young man he lived life to the fullest without much care or concern for his neighbors. Francis spoke of his moment of conversion–it came to him not in a religious ceremony, not while in a great cathedral, and not while studying scripture–it came to him when he saw the face of Christ in a leper.

Francis dedicated his life in service to the poor, to living as a poor man, and to rebuilding the church. The church of Francis’ time was in need of reform and through his simple life of service, a life lived in the footprints of Christ, Francis did impact change in the church and in his home town of Assisi.

Francis is often connected to animals. Yes, it is true he cared deeply for animals, he cared deeply for all of God’s creation. Francis believed in the Incarnation of Christ – a moment in time when God’s abundant love for creation overflowed; God became human and dwelt among us. For Francis Jesus’ mission was love. Francis was devoted to the nativity of Jesus — who is this God that chose to enter into the world in poverty? The cross had meaning for him as well — who is this God who freely enters into human suffering? Francis helps us see a compassionate, suffering, and human face in Christ.

One last thought on Francis, he was a man of deep joy. In the midst of suffering, his own and that of the people he served, Francis never stopped being a man of joy.

Let us pray that Francis will call all of us to the faith of his namesake.


Photo: Friar’s Balsam via Flickr

  1. I share your delight in this name coming around again.
    It emphasizes this is a time for compassionate action, mindful of all creatures.

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