It’s been a great year for the papacy. Pope Francis—the Christ-like Catholic leader recently christened as TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year—awes the world and reinvigorates the hopes of a flagging flock.

Suddenly, Catholicism is not seen with the same vitriol that it has usually prompted. Francis, the first Jesuit to serve as the Holy Father, took as his namesake Saint Francis of Assisi, the ascetic who adopted a life of poverty and penitence in accordance with Jesus’ message. As much as the life of the original Francis might be obscured in hagiographies, the current Francis’ zealous commitment to asceticism is apparent to us all.

Some changes are minor but meaningful—from his decision to keep a simpler apartment rather than move into the Apostolic Palace to the simpler sartorial decisions to forego the red Prada shoes and elaborate miter for plain white cassocks and an iron cross. It’s a kind of austerity that even I could get behind.

Then there are the more hope-inspiring measures: the heightened emphasis on ecumenism and interfaith dialogues—a staple of John Paul II’s papacy that receded to the wayside during Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s tenure—is especially encouraging.

From openly blessing and praying with a disfigured man to washing the feet of two women at a Roman youth prison to as yet unconfirmed accounts that he may venture out at night, dressed in the garb of a common priest, to minister to the homeless—this pope may also be the first Batman-like figure the world needs.

All this bespeaks the humility and sincerity of a man who truly believes what he says; one who practices as he preaches as the proverb goes. That the world has eagerly turned to papal admiration amidst a seemingly inexorable secularization also showcases the bare desire for genuine morality in the institutions that purport to purvey it.

But not all the changes that Pope Francis has brought to the Holy See are warmly accepted. Francis has reversed the emphasis on the social issues like contraception and gay marriage that America most associates with the politically influential Catholic Church in favor of the more Jesuit-oriented practices of caring for the needy and the sick.

That itself should be of little surprise—Francis is the first non-European Pope in 1,272 years. Back when he was still Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, he garnered a reputation for living simply, frequently dining with the homeless, and relentlessly pursuing interfaith dialogues with other Christian denominations as well as Judaism and Islam. In South America, the Church has retained its social justice spirit more than the conventionally conservative outset we ascribe to it in America and Europe. And the Pope’s progressive regime thus far signals a commitment to that ideal.

He drew criticism and admiration alike when he wrote that atheists might make it to heaven and said in an interview, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Francis’s recent apostolic exhortation—“Evangelli Gaudium” or “The Joy of the Gospel”—similarly tracked additional reformist attitudes by excoriating what he saw as the excesses of capitalism. He specifically called out disastrous trickle-down theories of economics, noting that “the promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger and nothing ever comes out for the poor.”

In America, where the bizarre inseparability of capitalism and Christianity in conservative circles remains unabated, and the extent of serious debate covers whether Jesus and Santa Claus were actually white, all this progressivism from the Vatican comes as a shock.

The ensuing logical convulsions are amusing to watch. Rush Limbaugh decried the “pure Marxism” that the Pope was preaching (which the Pope amusingly refused to be offended by), and Fox News has had much cognitive dissonance with the Pope’s description of unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny.”

As amusing as the dissent may be today, the fundamental drive of the Catholic Church is toward a more relatable and modern religion that cherishes the social justice inherent in the teachings of Jesus Christ as much as the biblical literalism that we’ve come to associate with Christianity in the States. That’s good for both the Catholic Church’s own preservation and probably the world as a whole as well.

Keep on, Francis.

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