It's been reported that the bishop of the cathedral where Saint Francis stripped off his stylish clothing, renouncing inheritance and status, asked the pope to visit that cathedral while at Assisi and at least "Lead the people in the Our Father." The pope responded, "Lead the Our Father?! I want to teach the Church how to repeat the gesture and to undress itself." Then at Assisi the pope expressed a desire for the Church to strip itself of all worldliness - vanity, arrogance and pride. He called these a cancer in the world and an enemy of the Church.
I was hoping for a powerful papal gesture to that effect. The pope's team of eight cardinals accompanied him on the day-pilgrimage, and so I thought that might be a good time and place to begin this new gospel approach to life in the Church: the cardinals appearing with the pope - not naked - but surely without all the costume.
It's time for the Church to undress and be done with all the titles: Your Holiness, Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Monsignor, Your Grace, Your Lordship, Reverend, Very Reverend, Most Reverend. The highest title in the Church should be brother and sister.
It's time to undress and put away the colored hats, caps and crowns, the jewelry, the piping, the colored sashes, capes and buttons. And the lace - Oh God, please make us brave and give up all the lace.
In 1972, many of us watched the Zeffirelli film about the life of Saint Francis titled: Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Kind of sentimental, still there was the scene where in a snowy winter we see a barefoot Francis laying stone to repair the half ruined church of San Damiano. One of Francis' rakish friends, covered in jewelry and furs makes his way through the snow to see what's going on, having been told that Francis has "gone off". When the friend tells Francis that he'd like to join the saint's efforts, Francis says, "I no longer believe in words, only actions." Even if the historical Francis never said it - he could have.
Indeed, the Church needs to undress: stripping off the royal and antique world of fashionable aristocracy and court that keeps the Church striated and distracted. When depicting the crucified Jesus we almost always give him a little cloth to safeguard his modesty. The artist who created the crucifix here was more realistic. And Francis, in stripping off his high style outfit and the attendant privileges and insurances, modeled himself on this naked Savior.
It is indeed a savage world, the pope says. And the Church needs to be freed up in every way to stand more closely and believably in solidarity with that world of pain.