Today I met a man that, in nine short months, has become one of my heroes.
He ambled into the chapel where I would normally celebrate mass
at the same time on any normal Friday, and somehow disarmed us all in
moment that should have been nerve-wracking.
We were to meet a man that
most of us believe to be Christ’s vicar on earth, and yet we were set at
ease by being in the presence of a man who called himself our brother.
Today I met one of my heroes, and in the few short words that we
exchanged I was left deeply consoled. I was consoled not by the “Buon
Giorno” that passed between us, but by being in the presence of a man
whose many actions have over the course of the past nine months
challenged me not just to be a better priest, or a better Jesuit, but a
Today I met Pope Francis and I understood, in the one of the
fullest and richest senses that I ever have in my life, what a hero
There is a song written by Bonnie Taylor in 1984 in which she lists
all of the qualities of a hero, that they should be strong, fast and
fresh from the fight.
What about a hero, though, who paces himself
slowly, is often helped up steeper stairs, and asks that enemies
recognize that they are brothers in a world all too often at war?
look to superheroes as archetypes of heroes, those who possess
supernatural strength and fill our comic books and even our biblical
narratives; men and women who consistently subvert the natural order.
There are those heroes of classical antiquity who, like Odysseus of
Greek myth and Cú Chulainn of Celtic legend, are humans who overcome
What about a hero who is simply a man, walking amid
other men, who neither flies nor faces a cyclops, who is neither skilled
in the marital arts, nor inspires such fear that his enemies would even
fear approaching him after his death?
How do we make sense of a hero
outside of such a narrative?
The truth may well be simply in that great quest for integrity, in
that great existential pull that each of us, believer and nonbeliever
alike, feel. The answer may be that in Pope Francis many of us see what
we hope to be ourselves.
Not the pope, not a bishop, not a religious
figure, but a man who is radically free because he is a man of radical
integrity. We see in Pope Francis a man who is radically courageous
because he is not afraid to admit his faults, but all the more not
afraid to pull us forward in his own attempts to be free down to the
very fundament of his being.
This is not the übermensch of
Nietzsche, nor is it even the existential knight of faith of
In Francis we see something that we can all hope to
reasonably obtain, not an ideal, not a theory, but a man who is
radically free, joyful but substantive, and a populist who is not afraid
to be intelligent.
In short, in Pope Francis we see a man who is, at
least as far as we have seen, radically, courageously and unabashedly
human. Being himself has made him a hero. For those of us who struggle
often enough simply to be ourselves, it has made him someone who gives
Today I met one of my heroes, and after we briefly shook hands, he
offered this simple word of who I, as a Jesuit, am supposed to be.
said in his homily that
a Jesuit, in following Christ, is “to think like Him, to love like Him,
to see [things the way He sees them], to walk like Him – it means doing
what He did, and with the same sentiments He had, with the sentiments
of His heart.”
In other words, as is written in the martyrdom of St.
Polycarp, be strong and play the man. Be that person of integrity, be
fearless enough to believe that you too could be that person that you
strive to be.
Today I met one of my heroes, and it seems that each day
he is teaching us a bit more what it really means to be a hero.