The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pope Francis Surprises

While I certainly didn't expect Cardinal Bergoglio to be elected Pope, I did, however, expect to be surprised. And for me, at least, his election was definitely a surprise, although a most pleasant one.

Pope Francis Smiling
There are some, however, who are not at all pleased with his election, and many media outlets were only too happy to parade the disaffected through their studios almost as soon as the Holy Father's name was announced. With the DVR recording EWTN, I channel surfed the other networks to see what the self-appointed experts had to say. One network, obviously displeased that the new Pope was not a Unitarian, introduced an ex-priest and a (former?) nun who also happened to be a practicing lesbian. As you might expect they were very unhappy that the College of Cardinals had elected a man who strongly supported the Church's consistent teaching on moral issues. On another network, one interviewee, while admitting that Pope Francis appeared to support the poor, went on to question the depth of that support because he had long ago rejected liberation theology. I was amazed the network had been able to find someone who still equated Marxism with helping the poor. And then there was our new Pope's fellow Jesuit who added with some suspicion: "I've never seen him smile."

I encountered much more of the same that first evening of Pope Francis' papacy. I suppose all this was to be expected since most of the secular media are hostile to the Catholic Church and its teachings. Their usual tactic is to shine the spotlight on Catholics who share this hostility. This, they believe, will allow them to brush aside any charges of anti-Catholic bias. Their selection of commentators, however, only confirms the bias they try to disguise.

What interests me most about the secular media is their belief that the Catholic Church will somehow toss aside 2,000 years of magisterial teaching simply to appease them and those who share their ideology. They believe this because they've been able to find some nominal Catholics who agree with them. I say "nominal" because a Catholic who openly rejects the magisterial teaching of the Church is really rejecting the Church as well. Indeed, once a person rejects one set of teachings, what's to keep him from rejecting all the rest whenever it becomes convenient to do so? Moreover, one who believes the Church can change its teaching on such issues as abortion or homosexual marriage simply does not understand the Church. It's not that the Church stubbornly refuses to change its teachings in the face of the prevailing zeitgeist; rather, the Church cannot change because these teachings are founded on divine law, not human law.

I expect this truth will eventually and grudgingly be accepted, and result in either schism or a massive apostasy. In this I tend to agree with Pope Benedict XVI who foresees a future Church that will be smaller, holier and persecuted.

Over the past few days, as I've thought about Pope Francis and what he will mean for the Church, I've come to believe that he will probably surprise us all again and again throughout his papacy. He is fully Catholic, fully the Apostle, the one sent by God to serve His people. He is a man of orthodox belief, who, like his predecessors, will be unwavering in his teaching. And by choosing the name "Francis" he has shown us that he is a man of the poor, a man who understands better than most what Catholic social teaching really means.

Peter and John at the Temple Gate
When I first saw Pope Francis standing on that balcony, I thought immediately of St. Peter on the day of the first Pentecost when he and St. John encountered the crippled man begging at the "Beautiful Gate" of the Temple:
When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. But Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” He paid attention to them, expecting to receive something from them. Peter said, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong. He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God. [Acts 3:3-8]
This was the image that came to mind when I first saw Pope Francis. He, too, was standing at a "Beautiful Gate," but today's temple gate looks out over St. Peter's Square and from there to the entire world; and the world was certainly watching. "Look at us," Peter said. And Pope Francis asked us to look at him and pray for him. This humble man bowed low to the people, to the Church he will serve, asking, begging for our prayers. Then he spoke to all of us, and blessed us all, knowing that like the crippled beggar outside the gate we, too, are broken and in need of healing, knowing that we are poor in both body and spirit. In his humility he reached out to us with the hand of the shepherd asking us to take hold so that, together, we can raise each other up, we can, through God's grace and in the name of Jesus Christ Crucified, make each other strong. Yes, together, we can enter the temple "walking and jumping and praising God."

This was what the Spirit showed me when I first saw Pope Francis. And on the next day the Pope reinforced this image in the first homily of his papacy as he spoke to the Cardinals who elected him, asking them "to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ Crucified."

Keep Pope Francis in your prayers, for he will need both strength and humility as he leads the Church. He will surprise the world, and the world will respond. Some will cheer him on and join in his work of walking and building and professing; too many will attack him; others will wonder what he's about; and perhaps the largest number will be forced to examine their own faith and how they live it.

Pax et bonum...

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