Sunday, March 24, 2013

He'll Be a Great Pope… Provided He Does Exactly What We Want

Pope Francis


I think the most irritating thing I am seeing with the election of a new Pope is the carping and sniping he receives from both sides.  Basically, what we're seeing is people using their ideology to interpret the words and actions of Pope Francis when they should consider his words and actions as a call to holiness.

From the Left

In terms of Catholic and Secular Liberals, we see people admire his attitudes to the poor without considering the Catholic formation to make him so.  They like his image of riding busses, washing the feet of AIDS patients and the like.  But his affirmation of the Catholic Moral Teaching?  Not so much.

Pope Francis seemed to recognize this when he said in his March 14 Homily:

We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord. When we are not walking, we stop moving. When we are not building on the stones, what happens? The same thing that happens to children on the beach when they build sandcastles: everything is swept away, there is no solidity. When we do not profess Jesus Christ, the saying of Léon Bloy comes to mind: "Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil." When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness.

Without the loving following of Christ, without the living a holy life He calls us to live, what the Church does is no different than any other charity.  As St. Paul pointed out (1 Cor 13:3), "If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing."

So the Church can't just eliminate the unpopular teachings on sexual morality.  When the media and political elites realize that Pope Francis is not going to be the "liberal reformer" they want, we then see all sorts of attacks to discredit the moral voice of the Pope.  Hence the disproven allegations about the Pope's actions in the Dirty War in Argentina.  We can be sure that there are probably reporters down in Argentina scouring the area for reports of sexual abuse as well.

In another way, we tend to see an attack on his predecessors.  Because the Pope wears black shoes instead of red and prefers simple transit to the more comfortable forms of transportation, the tactics are to denigrate the holiness of Blessed John Paul II and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI by implying that they should have had the same level of poverty.  But that is the either-or fallacy.  The question is not whether a Pope should dress elegantly or plainly.  The question is whether they are seeking to live as God calls them to live with the grace He has given to them.  I believe the answer is yes to all three of them… and I wonder if I can also say yes to the question.

From the Right

When it comes to the Catholic and Secular Conservatives, the problem seems to be that they believe he spends too much focus on the poor and not enough on the dignity of the office.

Here's a little event which I encountered recently.  In the RCIA class I teach, we were going over the events of Holy Week.  During the discussion of Holy Thursday and the Washing of the Feet, I mentioned to our catechumen (it's a small parish) of the intent of Pope Francis to wash the feet of twelve prisoners.  She was deeply moved by this news and the thought of the Pope of the Catholic Church washing the feet of twelve people we'd probably turn our heads to avoid looking at.  The imagery of John 13:12-15 was really seen here:

12 So when he had washed their feet [and] put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? 13 You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. 14 If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.

However, much of the conservative response to Pope Francis was a response of finding fault.  He was "changing the meaning" of the liturgy.  He was "leaving himself open to misinterpretation."  The Holy Thursday Mass "should be celebrated at St. John Lateran, not a youth prison."   "Why doesn't the Pope wash the feet of the victims of these criminals?" and so on (these are all comments I have seen in response to blog and news articles on the subject).

That strikes me as kind of missing the point.  Continuing the Gospel of John past the reading for Holy Thursday, Christ tells His disciples:

15 I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.   16 Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.

If Christ  calls us to be the humble servant of all, then the Pope washing the feet of twelve convicts that the rest of us would want nothing to do with is certainly acting well as the Vicar of Christ.


The problem is, as I see it, is not that the Pope should be acting differently than what we expect.  The problem is we have a tendency to confuse what we prefer with what the Church is obligated to do.  Because of this confusion, we judge the Pope by our preferences and fail to realize that we are not the measuring stick for the Church, and living as Christ commands us does not mean getting the Church to agree with our preferences.

Living as Christ commands us is to seek to grow closer to the Lord in holiness through the grace He gives us.  Blessed John Paul II, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have taught and acted in ways to make us consider whether we do as we are called to do.  When our ideology runs afoul of those teachings and acts, it is our ideology which is to be jettisoned.

1 comment: