An intriguing essay from Tom Washburn, O.F.M., who blogs at "A Friar's Life":
In a recent Boston Herald article, Matt Stout makes a bold claim about what a Sean O'Malley papacy might look like--literally. He quotes Boston's Franciscan Cardinal as saying, "I have worn this uniform for over 40 years and I presume I will wear it until I die." The punch line of course follows, "because I don't expect to be elected Pope." A humble response from a humble man.
But, as that provocative lead sat with me, I couldn't help but give it some consideration. There are many reasons why I believe that Cardinal Sean is the right man for this moment and would make a wonderful Pope (see Pope Sean Patrick I?). But, imagine for a moment what a sign to the church and to the world if after those auspicious words are heard ringing out from the balcony of St. Peter's, "Habemus papam!", "We have a Pope!" Imagine, as the world waits to see who was elected that, not a man clad uncomfortably in a white outfit that only somewhat fits steps out, but instead a man wearing his simple, worn Franciscan habit stood there instead. Can you imagine what an image and message that would be? Sometimes it is the simplest actions that can change everything. An unexpected Pope who says, "Let's call a council to bring the fresh air of the Holy Spirit into the church." A pope who shocks the world by saying, "I'm 86 years old. I have done what was mine to do. The Church belongs to Christ. It is time for me to resign." These seemingly simple actions are like a stone dropped on the calm surface of a pond that leave thousands of ripples in their wake. What ripples would be made by a pope in brown? Not in white. Not draped in gold vestments. Instead in a simple brown habit and sandals and echoing the words of the founder of his Order saying, "My brothers and sisters, let us begin again."
If you can get past the fact that a Pope Sean is really remote possibility, a Pope Sean in brown isn't that much of a stretch. It is one of the things Cardinal Sean is noted for after all. Many religious when they become bishops or Cardinals give up the garb of their religious community in favor of the fancier dress of their new position. As for Cardinal Sean, although occasionally wearing his Cardinal's regalia, he is more frequently seen and I think much more comfortable in his simple Franciscan habit.
It reminds me of the dramatic action of Pope Paul VI, the last Pope to go through the ritual of Papal Coronation, complete with Papal Tiara. At the closing of the second session of the Second Vatican Council in 1963, Paul VI descended the steps of the Papal Throne at St. Peter's to the altar and in dramatic fashion he laid the tiara as a gesture of humility and the renunciation of human glory and power on the altar. That tiara was later sold and the money obtained was given to charity. No pope since then has worn the papal tiara. A long-held symbol of temporal power and authority; one that at least visually links itself with worldly royalty was literally laid aside and a new model of humble service was born.
So, such radical actions are not unprecedented. Let's imagine for just a moment if this tongue-in-cheek question were a serious one and imagine for just a moment if Cardinal Sean were elected Pope and did exit the Conclave in his habit. What a powerful sign to the world that things have changed. Imagine the new sense of humility and service that could emanate from a church whose leader decided to put aside the trappings of royalty and embrace the clothing of a simple, Franciscan friar - as he has done his whole life - and lead from there. Imagine a Pope who smiles and tells jokes and is in his heart a pastor of souls.
Imagine what a pope in brown could do?