These will be super quick. I hope.
I find the Pope Francis hysteria just a little bizarre. I guess I’m glad, but I still find it, as a whole, what with the intensity and…elation – strange. What people seem to get most excited about – or what they say they’re excited about – is what he has to say about mercy and evangelization. Which is no different from what other recent Popes have said, including Pope Benedict. And if you think that part of it is different, then you weren’t paying any attention to Pope Benedict. Nor to Jesus Christ, apparently. Some say, “Ah, but the tone is different!” Really? Again – were you listening to Pope Benedict? Examples, please? Pope Francis has a more effusive personality, and if that floats your boat, great – but if it prompts you to weep in gratitude for a new tone and a New Church in the making, I hope your 15th birthday is nice.
Short version: let’s be concrete and specific and give examples. What’s is the “old” that the “newness” of Pope Francis is correcting?
I’m not saying that his words and tone are identical to Benedict’s or John Paul II’s. What I’m hearing is that people are excited that there is something fresh and new and super awesome here, and I just don’t understand what it is. Because it’s not what people say it is because Francis is not saying things that his predecessors were silent about.
I add, quickly: I appreciate what Pope Francis has to say, both when it affirms and when it challenges me. I’m glad that people are being moved and am sure it will bear fruit, just as Pope John Paul II’s papacy bore fruit and Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy bore fruit.
My armchair take on Francis is that when I hear him or read him , what I hear is a fellow who has been in the hierarchy for a long time. This hit me early on. His concerns are those of a bishop, and they seem to come out of a bishop’s experience of dealing with interest groups vying for his ear, careerist or pastorally indifferent clerics, and a structure, on the parish and diocesan level, which, despite the best of intentions, so often seems to lose focus and evolve into a self-perpetuating, self-serving club blind to the needy and broken souls right at the doorstep. It seems to me that much of what he says is an attempted and almost explosive corrective to all of that.
It’s also sort of like Pope Francis is having this continual discussion…even argument …but none of the rest of us can hear what the other party’s saying. So we’re confused and all looking at each other like
(insert amusing gif here)
Which is all to the good, but is also, I think, just one aspect of Catholic life and even Catholic leadership. To be honest, what doesn’t thrill me about Pope Francis is that his context and reference seems rather…narrow. His words do not come across as thoughtfully, carefully and appreciatively situated in the experience – past and present - of the whole Church. Or even an awareness of all the different sorts of people who might be experiencing exclusion and alienation from Christ or his Church at any given time for a host of reasons, some of which might even surprise him. This puzzles me because, as the interview indicates, he is a deeply cultured person, but his homilies, speeches and exhortations reflect Jesus, Pope Francis and not a whole lot in between. One could ask, well, what more is there? Answer…a lot. That’s what “Catholic” is. A lot. That is a tall order, of course, to be able to do that, but that deep and broad vision is, I would think, part of what being Pope is all about. Unity.
The impact, then, is one of a very strong individual. In the modern world, we like this, but quite honestly, I wonder – is this ideal? Yes, all Popes are different, because they are human. They have various gifts and flaws, yes. But the ideal is that it shouldn’t really matter who the Pope is. The only thing that Garry Wills ever wrote that I agreed with was in one of his books in which he remembered growing up Catholic when no one really ever knew or cared what the Pope said or did. It just didn’t matter, because the experience of being Catholic was about more than the papacy. Now, Wills probably had another agenda here – he was reacting against John Paul’s popularity – but the point stands, I think. As interesting and inspiring as an individual Pope might be, the focus is supposed to be Christ. If the Pope’s words or actions bring people closer to Christ – fantastic. But if he starts functioning in too much of a 1 Corinthians 1:12 kind of way….we might need to refocus and get a grip.
Well. I didn’t expect to write all that when I started. Huh.
There’s a lot of rather patronizing commentary out there. Is this patronizing? Hmmm…. By that I mean commentary that pats worried people on the head and accuses the concerned of not trusting the Holy Spirit or being fearful reactionaries or some such. Ascribing emotional motivations to those with theological, intellectual and spiritual questions, and therefore dismissing said concerns. Not very merciful or compassionate, if you ask me.
There’s also this rather frantic need to harmonize this papacy with Benedict’s, with JPII’s, with Pius X’s…with…everything. It’s a variation of the need to harmonize Catholic history into some sort of perfect consistency that just isn’t real. I am not sure where that comes from. It almost has that ahistorical Fundamentalist Protestant aura about it.
So there. I’m trying to listen, learn, be open and realistic. And pray!
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