In a time when the Catholic Church is under seemingly constant attack from a secular world that denounces her as irrelevant and out of touch and that also seems to suffer from internal disconnect, I can think of few people more vital today than Pope Francis.
Where credit is due
We needed Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. John Paul II was something of a papal rock star. He reached out to the youth of the Church in ways that had never been seen before and gave us the Theology of the Body. Pope Benedict, who was considerably more introverted than John Paul II, was left with some very big shoes to fill. Nonetheless, having been prepared to retire, he humbly accepted the papacy and upheld the traditions and teachings of the Church.
I have to admit that his resignation left me feeling somewhat vulnerable. For the first time since my starting to get back into the Catholic faith back in 2004 and understanding the significance of the papacy, I was without a shepherd. John Paul II’s death was very tragic, but at that point, I didn’t understand exactly how significant that this office is to the Church and to the world.
I signed up for the Pope Alarm alerts when the Conclave began. I remember I was at the local coffee house working on this entry when I got the text announcing the white smoke (I still have it saved on my phone). I think it’s somewhat ironic that I was working on this post on the day of his election.
I say this for two reasons. The first is the truth of his statement in his 2013 interview during which he said that we should not be so heavily focused (or “obsessed”, as he put it) on the Church’s stances on marriage, contraception, and sex. The second, on a more personal note, is that many people in the secular world lump all religions into one, gigantic, illogical blob. I was one who would think of logical counter-arguments, but these can only take us so far. To evangelize is to spread the Gospel through example and prayer. Logic and arguments are additional tools.
Year in review
Today, on the anniversary of Pope Francis’ election, I offer my review.
1) I love his simplicity and humility that have been greatly needed in the Church today. Writing great theological and philosophical works is bound to do great things, but how many people today have the time or focus to read and digest works like the Theology of The Body, Confessions, or the Summa Theologica?
While the original source of the “We Need Saints” poem is unknown, though it is often attributed to Pope Francis, the sentiment is nonetheless true. The saints that we most desperately need do not wear cassocks, veils, or Roman collars. Pope Francis, in the way he connects with the youth and even people who aren’t Catholic, really drives this home.
2) In addition to this, I also love his energy and his joy. What more needs to be said there?
3) This comes down to the media’s typical anti-Catholic slant, but I do not at all appreciate what I interpret to be assertions that Pope Francis’ predecessors (particularly John Paul II and especially Benedict XVI) were bad guys or that they were ineffective leaders. As I stated in a previous post, sometimes, what the Church needs isn’t an administrative figure. Sometimes, we need a pope that reinvigorates us and gives us the confidence to call ourselves Catholics.
4) The timing of his summer 2013 interview does make me a little uneasy. While I completely support his call for Catholics to show an increased concern for the poor and marginalized, we cannot downplay our teachings on the sanctity of life and marriage. There is still much work that needs to be done. I do, however, agree that the way in which these teachings are presented must be done so in a spirit of boldness, but also charity. The survey that was distributed several months ago will help the Church to identify how we can best do this.
5) On the other side of that, it’s completely understandable why he feels that he has not had to speak out much on abortion and contraception. A new generation of young Catholics who not only accept, but also embrace the sanctity of life, marriage, and human sexuality has clearly demonstrated this.
6) Pope Francis is proving to be that strong administrator that we need to clean up the Vatican. His appointments of Cardinals from developing nations should help with that, as the Church has been not only too Vatican-centered (as he has previously claimed), but I think in some ways, it has also been too Europe-centered. And contrary to what others might say, he is not flexing political muscle.
7) Catholic doctrine cannot change. However, those who hope for reversals should not be condemned or excluded from the Church. They must be shown that their understanding of Catholic doctrine is misguided, but should be shown with charity (I will readily admit that this is something that I need to work at). These teachings are meant to safeguard the dignity of the person and of society as a whole.
8) I can’t stress enough how much I love his passion for the Sacrament of Confession. While it may be difficult for many people today to admit when they are wrong, the purpose of Confession is not to highlight our faults, but to offer us the forgiveness of Christ and to direct us towards the redemption that has been promised to us. Yes, it requires us to humble ourselves and admit our faults, but the root of all sin is pride. Yes, we are confessing to another human being, but the priest speaks in persona Christi. I will share more about my views on Confession in my next post.
Happy Anniversary, Pope Francis!
In his short time as pope, Francis has proven to be a greatly-needed source of reconstruction and renewal for the Church. I think he has done a fabulous job in making Catholicism more accessible to the non-Catholic world and redirecting both the faithful and wayward to the core of the Church.
Here’s to many more years of joyful and passionate leadership under Pope Francis.
Happy Anniversary, Papa!