Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

20 December 2013

A Rave And A Rant

Blogger Leah Libresco writes about the excitement that numerous disparate voices share concerning Pope Francis, from Time to Vanity Fair to The Advocate. While Catholic periodicals might be expected to feature the Pope, the honorable mentions from the secular press are, well, honorable to mention (see Kathy Schiffer's cover of the covers)! Recently ABC's Good Morning America offered a fine feature of the Pontiff's encounter with two of its reporters. He's a good "bad penny," always turning up.

It's refreshing to witness such interest in times when people recognize the faces of entertainers more easily than public servants! One thing we can say about Pope Francis: He is getting the Word out.  But what word? Whose word?

Christ's, of course!

Insofar as he has taught about matters of faith and morals, his teachings are due our "religious submission of intellect and will," according to the Church's teaching on her teaching authority, the Magisterium. So far, he has issued his highest-level teachings in the form of an encyclical letter, Lumen Fidei (a "concerto for four hands," two of them Benedict's), and most recently, an apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.

Upon reading this last paragraph, even if you are a Catholic, you may be wondering about that phrase religious submission of will and intellect. It is often presented as professional jargon (the profession in question being "theologian"), but it is not at all difficult to understand, though perchance to execute. A faithful Catholic would seek to understand and assent to papal declarations that concern Catholic teaching. Cardinal Newman assured us, "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt," but it would be worthwhile to seek prompt and satisfactory resolution to any difficulties from trusted resources. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the most reliable resource for our dollar.

You may have noticed that Pope Francis is fond of interviews. To date, the interview has not been a medium for the Magisterium, although Benedict and John Paul II both gave interviews that were published in book form. True to the form of our age of information, Francis already has given three in his first year upon Peter's Chair. People have complained that interviews (and these in particular) lack precision of content and delivery, but this doesn't much matter to many listeners, who find refreshing his portrayal of the Catholic Church, in word, yes, but more so in gesture.

Like Ms. Libresco, however, I am not thrilled to the point of effusive joy. He has said nothing new, although he has restated orthodox utterances in different ways. In terms of charitable outreach, he has done nothing new. (Somewhere there is a "meme" of photos of Francis doing certain beautiful things, alongside his predecessors doing the same things, e.g., embracing disfigured persons).

Excuse me: with regard to the pontifical lifestyle, he has done new things. He has abandoned most papal peculiarities, no longer emblazoning his coat of arms on his fascia (sash, or as one of our seminary deans called it, "belly band"), living in the traditional Vatican apartment suite, or wearing red Gucci slippers. He drives his own car, etc. If a successor ever wished to reintroduce anything of what Francis set aside, or in any way look or sound like himself rather than Francis, he might have a hard time. That's the "cult of personality," which very much characterizes this age, probably as much as any other ("I belong to Apollos!").

As one who tends to fancy the theoretical over the practical (yet seeks balance here, as elsewhere), I respect, admire, and weakly imitate the Pope's outreach. As Cardinal Bergoglio, he presented a remarkable portrait of the Church as a whole, and, perhaps unwittingly, of his pontificate : "The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery." This smacks of mission, a constitutive element of the Church and her children, regardless of what form of the Mass or style of vestments or (insert your favorite variable here) you prefer.

This is a Jesuit talking here. I don't mean that (anymore) as a jibe. The Society is the Church's peripheral nervous system; and what fully operative Body lacks one? But you don't have to be a Jesuit to be a Creatively Faithful Contrarian (a CFC, but the good kind that improves the environment). CFCs have a way of challenging everyone, and that can be somewhat disconcerting. Ask Jesus.

I have withstood enjoyed the company of such people over the years. They may not have been faithful to the Church as such, but they were faithful to me, even if I sometimes felt like clay being molded (not in a romantic way, à la Ghost, but in a heartless way, à la Jeremiah 18). These friends have brought me to the present moment, oftentimes staying awake as late as now, helping to clarify and purify my faith.

It's getting late, and I want to finish the thought.

I can't control my own life, so sure as shittake mushrooms I can't control yours; but would people please just stop framing Pope Emeritus Benedict, and even Pope Soon-Saint John Paul II, as antitheses of Pope Francis? Would you respect B16 and JP2 for their acceptance of the "trappings" (we know not in what spirit) as much as you respect Francis for his rejection of them? Would you stop contrasting B16 and JP2's styles of interaction and preaching to Francis'? Would you consider each man's content alongside his delivery, allowing some of the dust to settle around Francis' latest utterance and photos before reluctantly, or gleefully, waving goodbye to the Church's future, or to her past?

Insofar as these men hesitatingly yet confidently accepted the call to the papacy as they had accepted priesthood, they are Peter, part of a Tradition that can both embrace and eschew trappings, speak gently and stridently, affirm the Church's teachings while loving God's confused and contrary children, among whom they must include themselves. All three would concur: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and I am not."


  1. A small thought..... JP2, and B16 were what was needed as the Head of the Church at the time. God has chosen these men to be at the helmat these points in time, because they were the best suited for the tasks at hand. Each pope ( the good the bad and the ugly) has in someway shaped the Church for the better

    1. Thanks for the astute reminder. We shall keep our eyes, ears, and heart open for what Francis contributes.