10 ways Pope Francis challenges us

Story highlights

  • Jay Parini: Like other Christians, I look to Francis for spiritual leadership and moral authority
  • He challenges us on so many fronts: climate change, humility, inequality; how can we take on his challenges?

Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College. He is the author of "Jesus: The Human Face of God." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Why does Pope Francis stir respect, even love, in the hearts of millions, including non-Catholics? Like other Christians, I look to Francis for spiritual leadership. Here are 10 reasons why so many of us admire this pontiff, and why his examples set a moral challenge for us on many fronts.

1. Humility is a virtue

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?

    2. Climate change is real

    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.