Francis embodies humility, having taken on the name of St. Francis of Assisi, a servant of the poor whose love of the natural world was legendary. A master of symbolism, Francis quickly dispensed with the fancy red slippers that popes wore. He moved into a small apartment in the Vatican and put the papal Mercedes in the garage, favoring a 20-year-old Renault with 190,000 miles on it.
Pope Francis' gestures challenge us to live humbly and not be driven by ostentation. How many of us have tried to live with less in a smaller house, drive an older car or resole a pair of shoes?
Pope Francis has put the church at the center of this subject, issuing a major encyclical on the environmental crisis that befalls us
. In this hefty document, he urges all Christians to consider it their duty to become faithful stewards of their planet. He has seized on the issue of exploitation. "Isn't nature humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?" He asked recently.
Here's the challenge for you: Are you respecting the natural world and working against its despoiling? Have you managed to drive less, find alternative sources of energy or make a habit of recycling?
3. Commitment to the poor
Hardly a day passes without the Pope reminding his followers to care for those at the margins of society. He has toured impoverished countries, drawing attention to those in need. Boldly, he says the poor everywhere are being sacrificed at the "altar of money."
Are we, many of whom call ourselves Christians, finding room in our hearts (and wallets) for those around us who lack shelter, food and clothing? Do we pay only lip service to the concept of charity?
4. Capitalism on trial
It's no wonder that some have found this pope's attitude toward the world economic order provocative.
He has widely denounced "a new colonialism" that creates policies with dire implications for the poor, and once quoted a fourth-century bishop who characterized the unbridled pursuit of money as "the dung of the devil." He has argued that poor nations must not play the subservient role of providers of raw materials and cheap workers for wealthy countries.
Have we become too greedy for all our own good? With rising income inequality, are we mere helpless bystanders while we see the rich getting richer, the middle class getting poorer and the poor getting even poorer?
5. Gays in the church
One of this pope's first shockers was a statement on gays in the church. "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" He famously asked. This statement marked a huge departure from the attitude of his predecessor in the Vatican, who called homosexuality "an intrinsic moral evil."
"Judge not lest ye be judged yourself," Jesus told us, and it's a present challenge for most Christians almost every day.
Are you too quick to judge others? Are you opening your life to gay men and women, and treating them with respect and equality?
6. Women are equal
Francis hasn't yet argued for allowing women into the priesthood, much to the dismay of many (including myself). But he has shown a willingness to listen, supporting "the work of deepening and of promoting" the role of women in the church.
It's not easy when, like me, you were born into a patriarchal world, where it's easy to take male privilege for granted. So we must try to be more aware, and to stand up for equal treatment of women in the workplace, to fight for pay parity and to take seriously the hard work of childrearing.
7. Reaching out to Islam
Francis reached out to Islam in striking fashion. On Holy Thursday in 2013, he bent to wash the feet of two Muslims, drawing international attention. And he has allied himself with the Palestinians several times, inviting President Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican, where he called him "an angel of peace."
Have we talked about Islam, or other religions, in ways that reflect badly on us and them? We are all God's children, and there are no exceptions. Do we allow people to speak in anti-Muslim ways without correcting their misconceptions?
8. Accepting science as valid
Going back to Galileo, the church has frequently been at odds with science. But Francis has called for a reconciliation between science and theology, putting the weight of his office behind evolution as well as Big Bang theory. "God is not a magician with a magic wand," he says. In this, he stands apart from his predecess