Pope Francis: The True Meaning of his Name

St. Francis of Assisi (November 26, 1182 – October 3, 1226), the man after whom the current pope is named left an indelible print in the sand of time because of his penitential or repentant lifestyle. On March 13, 2013 Cardinal Gorge Mario Borgoglio of Argentina was elected as pope, yet he took the name Francis. Therefore, he is known as Pope Francis 1.

“Habemus Papam” – Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., has been elected Pope Francis I (Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales))

You might be wondering, “What is in a name?” Usually, newborn babies are given the name of another person. That is, some babies are named after their aunts, uncles, or grandparents. For example, my parents named me after my grandfather, Abdulai Tommy Sowa. Recently, I did a legal name change. I changed my first and middle names to Charles and Timothy (CT). I named myself Charles for Charles Spurgeon – “Victorian England’s best known Baptist minister”, and Timothy – The Bishop of the 1st century churches of Ephesus in Asia Minor. Remember, Martin Luther King, Jr., the African American clergyman and Civil Rights leader was named after Martin Luther the Protestant German Reformer.

As an itinerary evangelist, the overarching theme at the core of St. Francis’ preaching was God’s unfathomable love for humankind. He was not judgmental in his preaching at all. He embraced the life of Gospel poverty, and he had no feelings of overwhelming anxiety about it. Francis’ exemplary lifestyle serves as a flashlight on the dozing conscience of the 21st century church. Surely, there will always be sick people in our communities, and they need to be cared for. The poor and helpless also deserve our care. Lepers, for example, deserve to be cared for not with the attitude that we are doing them favor, but perceiving such ministry as a “source of spiritual and physical consolation….”

St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220)

St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Francis of Assisi observes that, since we are absolved, there is more room for growth in the image of Christ. Incarnation is one of the dominant themes of the penitent Franciscan stripe. Lessons on the penitential stream teach Christians today (especially those that have swallowed the prosperity Gospel hook-line-and-sinker) to embrace simplicity of life-style. It does not necessarily mean that each and every one of us should do property denunciation and become friars. At the Third Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization, it was observed that one of the six major challenges facing the church is, “Calling the church back to humility, integrity and simplicity.”

We can make the conscious decision to overcome materialism, refuse to live exploitative lives, and practice generosity. When people become engulfed by the love of money, they employ all kinds of Machiavellian or manipulative practices in order to amass the mundane things of this life. Instead of consuming the best and leaving the poor to glean on our crumbs we should lavishly share our best with them.

Indeed, the lines between the penitential life and the compassionate life intersect. Surely, God is calling the whole body of Christ to be an “includer” of those who feel left out, and to be a voice for the voiceless. Both the rich and the poor reflect the glorious image of God. Therefore, the latter must be cherished and honored as much as the former is. Fundamentally, we are all the same. We are all equally important regardless of social status or physical condition. Neither the elite nor the common should be ignored. The church needs to do more in terms of ministering to people who are grappling with untreatable illnesses. HIV/AIDS patients, for example, should be treated with dignity.

Are we to cast judgment on those who are falling through the cracks due to their indiscretion and poor decisions? Certainly no. Being judgmental can hurt the feelings of people. Why should we (preachers) condemn people if we don’t have to? Our authority is not to preach judgmental sermons; our authority is to preach the redeeming love of Christ!

If Saint Francis of Assisi left a legacy of penitence, then it follows that Pope Francis’ leadership of the RC Church must epitomize repentance. There must be a clarion call to repentance that reverberates across the globe! Integrity issues, habitual temptations and wrongdoings among the leaders of the church must be dealt with. Each and every one of us must realize our sins and be willing to change our ways.

Since he has the awesome responsibility of leading the 1.1 billion-member Roman Catholic Church, I pray that Pope Francis will live out the true meaning of his name.


Trapped and Duped

A few years ago, I was trapped and duped. It pained me so much because I never anticipated it. In retrospect, I realized that I had the opportunity to handle the issue in a sensitive way such that it would not have caused me hurt feelings. I wish I had dealt with the issue in a more sensitive way. You can agree with me that it hurts to be duped. I was so hurt that I cried for days (I don’t get water-eyed so easily). We have all been victims of some tricks and snares. It is one thing to face traps, intrigues, manipulations and machinations. How we deal with them is quite another thing.

The kind of trapping and duping I am attempting to throw light on is one that a man or woman orchestrates and inflicts on himself or herself. Charles Spurgeon has observed that, “Beware of no man more than yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us.” More often than not, we have been entrapped in self-inflicted pain usually due to indiscretion, or failure to exercise self-control.

When dealing with such a crucial issue, it is wise to consider what the all-knowing God has to say. In the Bible, James writes about a temptation that comes from within us:

When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed (James 1:13,14 NIV).

Putting the reference in to context (verses 12-18), we realize that even though James writes about a temptation that comes from within us, he assures the reader in verse 12 about the benefit of endurance. In verses 13-18, he gives an eye-opener on the basis of enticement. Let us see an example of how temptation can occur in our finances. For instance, we Americans buy so much so that we spend about twelve billion dollars on storage facilities a year. It has been observed that the self-storage business supersedes the music industry.

When we bow to the inner pressure to buy more and more stuff, it is a proof that materialism, consumption, acquisition, and hoarding appeal to us. When we deliberately fail to bow down to the pressure of impulsive buying, it implies that materialism no more appeals to us. The More the pressure on us to selfishly lavish our financial resources on ourselves, the more we should think that we need to generously direct part our resources towards the cause of caring for the welfare and satisfaction of the needy.

God gives us everything that we have in this world. He expects us to manifest faithful stewardship in the way we use those resources. We are not inward-looking hoarders, but outward-looking distributors, treating people with warmth and immense generosity. God’s ardent wish is to have His way in our lives. He wants to influence us in “so simple a thing as how we use a dime.” Let us allow Him to have His way in our lives, because His will is always beneficial.

We may not necessarily be financial experts to come to terms with the fact that, one of the greatest ways to financial prosperity is withholding present purchases. Hence, we are able to save and invest. Thus, we become beneficiaries of the abundance that God, our Father has stored for us. He is faithful, but we have to do our own part.

God wants us to align our spending patterns with His infallible word. Failing to heed God’s counsel is like wandering away from His protection, and as we wander away the devil uses his wiles to enable us to make our own gallows in which we become trapped. When materialism (very strong want to own things) becomes one’s weakness; it becomes one’s insecurity – a thumbscrew that one unconsciously uses to turn to one’s disadvantage.

Since humankind by nature is insatiable, the wish to always buy stuff and the grace to resist usually looks like a David and Goliath confrontation wherein we prevail when we resist that temptation by God’s grace. Surely, there is something you and I need to put right with respect to our spending. Even though this article explores the area of our finances, the proven principles of God’s Word are applicable to every area that our self-control is tested. Let us imagine how the world would become a better place when we all inculcate the principle of being compassionate by saving some of our hard-earned financial resources and use it to help the needy!

Since we have a better understanding about the negative consequences of materialism, by God’s help we can prepare a defense against consumerism so that we will not be trapped and duped.