Austin Rios is an alumnus of Seminary of the Southwest currently serving as the rector for St. Paul’s Within-the-Walls, Rome, Italy. Austin was born in Texas and grew up in Texas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin. Austin describes his life’s journey as a journey in “adapting to new cultures and growing in faith through the Episcopal Church in all its wonderful manifestations.”
Over the last few weeks, Italy and the world have been abuzz about Suor Cristina Scuccia, a 25 year old Sicilian nun, whose YouTube clip is the new world record holder for “fastest to 10,000,000 views.” Her rendition of Alicia Keys’ No One on the Italian version of The Voice passed that mark in a mere 3 days, and has risen to over 38 million views since March 19. It’s hard to tell if viewers are drawn to the clip because of its popularity, are impressed by the performance itself, or simply intrigued by the format of the show. In this first, “blind,” stage of competition, judges were positioned with their backs to the habit-clad nun about to erupt on stage, unaware of her true identity. Once the judges decided that they liked Suor Cristina’s voice, they turned their chairs around and came face to face with the diminutive, R & B belting sister. They stared. Their mouths hung open. And when they interviewed her, asking why a real nun would choose to sing on The Voice, she responded by saying that Pope Francis “says we should go out and evangelize, proclaiming that God doesn’t want to rob us of things, but to give us more.” In short, Suor Cristina felt bold enough to risk making a fool of herself because she was convinced that spreading the Gospel widely was worth that risk.
Pope Francis himself is pretty popular these days, and it has to do with the fact that he too is unafraid to make a fool of himself in the service of Christ. The foolishness he chooses to embrace is not the foolishness of fussing over canon law or obsessing over ecclesiastical purity, flawless liturgy and outlandish vestments, but rather a foolishness that risks his position of power in the hope of extending the good news throughout the earth. He washes women’s feet. He goes to confession like any other member of his flock. He goes out at night dressed as a simple priest in order to serve the poor.
Maybe he’s Batman.1
Those who seem to take greatest offence at these actions come off looking truly foolish to the wider world. That world and an increasing number of its inhabitants has grown weary of a brand of religion that is unwilling to risk itself, its power and its prestige, on behalf of its foolish founder’s message. Like his namesake from Assisi, who foolishly renounced his father’s wealth and rich robes in order to stand naked before the mercy of God, Francis is a living reminder that all Christians are called to become holy fools for Christ’s sake. Because nothing is quite so foolish as laying down one’s life in order to take it up again.2
1 One day after chapel, certain seminarian friends of mine and I were discussing how clergy might be the “superheroes” of today’s world. Special outfits, communion kits containing mysterious powers, a tragic, yet redemptive backstory…
2 John 10:17-20
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’ Again the Jews were divided because of these words. Many of them were saying, ‘He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?’ (NRSV)