The greatest sacrifice of my ministry thus far hasn’t been foregoing a steady income or even living out of my car. I thought missing the Miami game to speak on confession was going to be tough to beat, but Wednesday blew it out of the water. After hearing about the white smoke and watching the Holy Father come out, I had to leave to drive down to Mary Washington before I could read everything on the internet about him. I had to settle for secular radio to learn what I could before driving home and spending midnight to 2am liking everything on Facebook.
But I knew as soon as I heard his papal name that I was going to love him, and oh, friends, I love him! You’re not surprised by this, I know. I was going to love whoever it was. But Pope Francis? Named after il Poverello, the most Christlike man since Christ, a man too humble to be ordained? The first pope in a millennium to pick a brand new papal name? Y’all, I still giggle every time I hear his name. It’s like puppy love over here, and it’s no wonder.
How could you not love a man so humble that he asks for your blessing before imparting his? How could you not adore a man who rides the bus home with all the other cardinals immediately after being elected? A man whose episcopal motto is “Lowly yet chosen”?
We all know about how he rode the bus instead of a limo, how he lived in an apartment instead of a palace, how he washed the feet of AIDS patients and prisoners, how he stood up to a corrupt government, how he told Argentinians not to come see him made a cardinal but to give that money to the poor instead. This guy doesn’t just pay lip service to social justice–he lives it.
But he refuses to conform to any liberal/conservative paradigm. He’s orthodox on every single issue, taking a stand against abortion and gay marriage and demanding orthodoxy of the priests under him, but not wielding truth like a weapon. He’s a man of truth and mercy and above all a man of love. He’s a scientist by training, a Jesuit in the image of St. Ignatius–educated, obedient, committed, prayerful. His first act as pope was a visit to the Blessed Mother. His first homily was about the Cross. He’s meek and simple and strong and such a gift to the Church.
But he’s just the pope.
Don’t get me wrong, being the pope is a really big deal. He’s probably the most important man in the world. But he’s just a man. I’ve been talking about how awesome the papacy is for all of Lent, but I want to stop a minute to address those among us who see the Holy Father as Messiah or anti-Christ: he’s just the pope.
To those of you who said, “Since the pope is a liberal/conservative/good man, I might stay Catholic,” might I point out that being Catholic has nothing to do with what kind of man the pope is or what positions he holds? If Jesus is God and founded a Church, your allegiance to the Church should be too strong to be swayed by “liberal” or “conservative” popes. Because the pope can’t change doctrine. So if you’re sticking around in the hopes that he’ll allow contraception or gay marriage, you’re going to have a frustrating time of it. Or if you’re staying because you’re sick of following sinners and hypocrites and you think Pope Francis might be different, I’ll burst that bubble right now: he’s a sinner. But if you’re not willing to love the Church in all her brokenness, can you really call yourself a Catholic? I’m not kicking anyone out of the Church here, just asking: are you more convicted of your ideology than you are of the infallible teachings of the Church? Because he’s not going to change those awkward teachings–he can’t. He’s just the pope.
To those who said “Bergoglio loathes the Traditional Latin Mass,” I have to admit that I don’t know much about the matter. It does seem that he’s never encouraged it. But I don’t imagine that this kind, gentle man loathes anything. And given that it was the TLM that drew him to enter seminary, I find it unlikely that he loathes it. Even if he did, he can’t outlaw it forever. And while I seriously doubt that he’d suppress the practice, particularly with Benedict still alive, even if he did, you’d just have to wait out his papacy. Because he can’t outlaw something that God has permitted–not permanently, anyway. He’s just the pope.
To those who said, “Maybe there’s hope for the Church,” I have to say this: there is always hope for the Church. By definition. Jesus himself said “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This pope could be everything popes are accused of being. He could be a Nazi and a pedophile and a lecherous, embezzling, megalomaniacal narcissist and there would still be hope for the Church. There will always be hope for the Church. And if our only hope is a good man, we’re in a lot of trouble. Because, powerful as he is, he can’t destroy the Church and he can’t save it. He’s just the pope.
To those who said “We’re doomed,”1 give me a minute to stop laughing. Then see above.
You might have valid issues with his approach to liturgy or ecumenism. You might wonder whether an outsider can reform the Curia. You might be concerned about his initial tendency to ignore traditions. But you have to admit this: Pope Francis is humble and holy and loving and strong. I think he will be an incredible pope, but he’s just the pope. He’s not going to save the Church–it already has a Savior. He’s not going to destroy the Church–it’s impossible. I think he’s going to be a holy shepherd and a tough boss and a strong advocate of true evangelism. Do we really need anything more than that?
- This is a direct quote. [↩]