In a special interview with Pope Francis I, Antonio Spadaro, S.J., the editor of La Civiltà Catolica, the Italian Jesuit journal, asked the pointed question: “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?”
The Pope’s first, delayed response was, “I do not know what might be the most fitting description.”
He then takes the spiritual angle: “I am a sinner.” And from there he speaks of an image that seems most fitting to capture his identity. He describes a Caravaggio painting “The Call of Saint Matthew” to represent his self-understanding: “Jesus saw a publican and since he looked at him with feelings of love and chose him he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ ” Jesus is pointing his finger at Matthew, and so he followed where Jesus led.
It is a question that could be put to any of us in a context of personal and thoughtful exchange. How does one sum up a lifetime of growing? Which of the stops and starts, excitement and dullness, successes and failures, friendships and losses, and range of human emotions are defining?
How does one encompass a lifetime of meaning? Any attempt to answer that question would, most likely, move one to turn to metaphors and figures of speech, and in Francis’s case, a model, to capture the sub-text that informs how we view our lives.
What would we say, if asked?
Is there an image or a model reflecting our sense of ourselves?
A pilgrim on a journey. A tree, rooted and branches extended. An outstanding person who continues to influence: a teacher, family member, or a saint.
Pope Francis hesitated: “I do not know what might be the most fitting description.”
Then, he adds: “Yes, but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”
When faced with choosing a name for himself as Pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose Francis, another model for this stage of his life as leader as successor to Peter. And from his actions following that choice, he enables us to see how that translates into his understanding of himself as Pope.
When Jesus points his finger now, it is not in the image of Matthew as follower; it is to lead the people of God. His leadership, by the name that will identify him, is in the model of Francis, the poor man who embodied Jesus’ ways; who loved God’s people and all of creation.