The following ran on the March 19, 2013, edition of the Dallas Morning News Texas Faith blog. Theology professor William Lawrence provided expertise for this story.
March 25, 2013
By Wayne Slater
In taking the name Pope Francis, the new pontiff made a conscious decision that reflects two different aspects of spirituality. He is a Jesuit, an order that embraces the intellect, but he also has invoked the Franciscan ideal of care for the poor. One is the head, the other the heart.
The two Catholic orders haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on things – but together they mirror qualities important to any successful faith tradition. Complexity and simplicity — attention to charity and selfless service as well as to doctrine and intellectual discernment.
With the formal start of his papacy on Tuesday, Pope Francis faces considerable challenges within the Catholic church. But as the leader of the world’s largest Christian church, with 1.2 billion members worldwide, the pope has influence beyond the boundaries of the church itself. How should he use it?
What is one piece of advice you would give the new pope? What single thing could he do to make a tangible difference to you and the people you know? If the pope asked, what would you tell him he should do?...
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
My advice to Pope Francis is to embrace his own identity as a pastoral theologian. His academic training among the Jesuits and his pastoral affinities for the poor are the two fundamental sources of strength that shape his ministry. Whether ministry means the parish priesthood, the episcopacy, or the papacy, he is the same soul with a vocation to serve the Lord.
For me this means that, although his responsibilities include many urgent needs in the life of the church, he should not approach his office as one who faces many problems to solve. He should approach the office as an opportunity to do faithful service in the ministry of a pastoral theologian. His focus should be on thinking theologically about the work of a pastor. In doing so, he will bring his most precious gifts for ministry to bear upon all of the challenges, crises, and concerns that are afflicting the church that he leads.
From this core identity, then, he will be most fully situated not only to be an ecclesiastical leader but also to be a public witness who can be respected by the people of the world. He will be able to stretch himself in ecumenical and interfaith ways. He will be able to engage in conversation with secular heads of state and of governments. He will be able to intercede in the disputes that threaten a stable peace in the world.
Attention to the needs of the poor combined with critical theological reflection will offer him the methods and the means for an effective ministry from Rome to the whole world....