With the anniversary of 500 years since the Reformation, I've thought about our life circumstances - a world ajar with violence, a planet quivering with climate irregularities, and the Christian churches still divided. Have we ever collectively felt so vulnerable?
My musings led me to a letter, a beautiful letter by Aana Marie Vigen, an associate professor of Christian social ethics at Loyola University Chicago. It captured my heart and I wondered if it might yours as well. I've abbreviated it slightly for this blog, but I invite you to read the full text.
If the hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and senseless violence have taught us anything, it is that we need each other. We were meant to be a family.
Maybe you have heard: 2017 is a big year for Lutherans. Many are giddy with excitement as we commemorate the audacity of a certain 16th-century Augustinian monk, who on Oct. 31, 1517, nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg. Fingers flutter across keyboards feverishly extolling or disputing Martin Luther’s contributions and flaws. But I—one who has marinated in American Lutheranism most of her life—find myself writing to you, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
Perhaps it is an odd moment for Lutheran fan mail. Yet, ever since you became the Bishop of Rome in 2013, I have become increasingly convinced that you are the pope that Luther was looking for 500 years ago. Here are four reasons why.
1. You help us to see Christ in our neighbor.
Luther continually emphasized “neighbor love” as a crucial way to love Christ and to respond to a hurting world. You once said: “How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor!”—and you have given the world countless examples of what such a church looks like.
2. You help us to see God in creation.
Luther was in love with life in its varied and dazzling forms—its life-giving waters, its creatures and landscapes. He continuously referenced creation and everyday life in his writings. You chose the name of St. Francis of Assisi, a lover of the earth and all of its creatures. Your first encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” lays bare how climate change exacerbates every other social ill and the cruel irony that those who contribute the least to the degradation of our common home are paying the highest price for it. It asks us to confront not only harsh planetary realities but also the parts of ourselves that we would rather not see—selfishness, complacency and willful ignorance.
3. You combine humility with audacity.
Luther charged the church of Pope Leo X as being “puffed up” with opulent pride and avarice. He deeply wanted Christians, ordained and lay, to understand that we are paradoxically free in Christ and yet called to be “servants of all.” Your witness on the world stage has been one of great humility. You are not afraid to apologize. You understand Luther’s insight that we are paradoxically both saint and sinner—that every person is always both beloved and broken, capable of expressing grace and healing and yet always in need of healing and forgiveness.
4. You inspire creative hope and action.
Luther did not set out to break from the Roman church, but his fiery rhetoric and daring example ignited a movement and renewal of faith that he could not fully anticipate or contain. His translation of the Bible into German opened its pages to the general public for the first time. His humor and passion drew people into bold action and creative community. You also inspire millions across the planet. In word and deed, you make it abundantly clear that everyone has something to contribute. Now is our moment to be, as Luther might put it, “the priesthood of all believers”.
You inspire me, Pope Francis. You help me find the grit to live with intention. So I boldly close this love letter with a fervent request: that you pray for the United States and the world in these tumultuous and confounding times, that we will stumble our way through with minimal injury to ourselves and to others. I ask you to pray without ceasing that humanity wakes up to creation’s myriad cries in time to do something meaningful about them.
God bless you, Holy Father. Know that I pray with and for you.
Aana Marie Vigen