|Pope Francis: Teacher of love and compassion|
The Guardian, The Washington Post and The New Yorker are not media organs that we as Catholics expect to find positive references to the Sovereign Pontiff and the Catholic Church.
Yet there it is in black and white. Through an increasingly popular touch, some horrifyingly vague interviews and a break with liturgical norms during Holy Week, as well as the shift in emphases during his Pontificate, Pope Francis appears to have won over the press.
Should we rejoice? I pray readers will not misunderstand me. I took one look at the photograph above and thought to myself, 'Oh my...we have a living Saint as Pope'. If any image will have won greater love and support for Pope Francis among those who fear that Francis could yet do some serious damage to the Catholic Church in terms of her doctrine and liturgy, this picture is the one.
The Pope with the Personal Touch
As far as photographs go, in terms of PR, it really could not get any better than this. Yet, this itself is cynical and I hope that you recognise it as such. Pope Francis was just doing what this Pope is incredibly good at doing. He is the master of the popular touch. How the man with the rare skin condition that must stigmatise him wherever he goes felt about being kissed by the Vicar of Christ is more important than even the message this embrace sends out to the World. And let us make no mistake, it is a simply wonderful, universally understood message of love. Meeting, greeting, kissing, touching the crowds as part of a papal crusade to win over the hearts and minds of the people of Rome, and by extension the World, to the Catholic Church, Pope Francis is a gifted man of the people. Already, is is being touted as the 'people's Pope' (and it wasn't even Tony Blair who said it). The scenes in Rome are certainly reminiscent of the words attributed to St Francis, 'Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary, use words.'
Yet one thing still nags me and I cannot quite shake it. Fr Ray Blake suggests that Archbishop Mueller is the 'iron fist in the velvet glove' that is Pope Francis. This means the Church, for the time being at least, enjoying a popular papacy, but with a tough orthodoxy within it in terms of the CDF. Except the media don't talk about the CDF that much. And when they do, they don't mention Pope Francis. The media prefer only talk about the Pope because the Pope is sending out positive vibes. That's good - or at least - that's good for the image of the Church and especially for a papacy tarnished in the World's eyes largely because of the doctrinal orthodoxy of Benedict XVI, as well as a sex abuse crisis that the media decided to unjustly pin on him. It may draw people in, or it may leave men and women admiring Francis, or it may do both. Whether this is a 'strategy' that will draw men and women into the Church will take years to evaluate.
I remain concerned, not that the Pope isn't Catholic, but that the modern Pope has to hold together a house so much divided in itself. Staying neutral, 'warming hearts', remaining popular - will that hold things together? Is a gentle watering down of doctrine from the Office of the Papacy the price to be paid for unity with those who oppose Christ's Teachings? Will the centre hold? If the Pope is only a great teacher of love (like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was) but refuses to say things (like the things Bl. Teresa of Calcutta did) that will cause the ire and displeasure of not just those who oppose the Church's infallible teachings, but the rulers of the age who use the Pope's reluctance to condemn sin, as an excuse to vote for it, then what does that mean for the papacy and what does that mean for the Salvation of souls? The message on mercy is getting through, but the message on sin is unclear enough to give US Catholic politicians a public 'excuse' not go vote with the Church's teaching in mind.
Is the message of Salvation getting through?
The Lord Jesus Christ taught us that a house divided will fall, and let us make no mistake, the opposition to the Magisterium, opposition to beliefs and convictions held by the Catholic Church as the Bride of Christ for nearly two thousand years, remain hugely under attack with a ferocity that is unmistakably close to persecution, both from inside and outside of the Church. As long as the CDF is strong and Pope Francis is seen and portrayed as doctrinally ambivalent, while being loved (and loveable) by not just Catholics but those outside the visible Church of Christ, we will see articles like this one in The New Yorker.
The New Yorker uses the image of Pope Francis and the suffering victim of a rare skin disorder to show the compassion of the Pope - a compassion that is there for the whole world to see. Prepare yourselves, Catholics. I don't know when they are dishing out the next Nobel Peace Prize, but next year's could well have Pope Francis's name on it. From here on in, all the Pope has to do is keep quiet on abortion, artificial contraception and homosexuality and its pretty much in the bag.
Yet from that enduring image of the Vicar of Christ's compassion, The New Yorker moves swiftly into the survey for the 2014 Synod on the Family, praising the pastoral concern of the Pope who is set to become truly, Universal Pastor, in a way no papacy since the birth of the Church has been seen to be. In the article, How Strong is the Pope? the magazine openly asks whether the all-embracing compassion of the Pope is set to set the Church on a radically new pastoral mission that all but over-rides Her care for souls in proclaiming doctrine that leads men and women to Salvation.
The 'popular Pope' and the two schools of thought
There are two schools of thought on the direction of Pope Francis's papacy from what I detect - at least from the internet. One is that the Pope remains concerned about doctrine and wishes to see the CDF act boldly to censure those who deviate from the Church's infallible teachings. The other, and it is, shall we say, a more 'apocalyptic' school, believes that the cult of personality surrounding Francis will be so great that should the Pope and his advisors make even more popular moves that place the Church's doctrinal teaching and its effective proclamation in jeopardy, his overwhelming popularity will make such movement impossible to oppose. With Francis, you see, the mystery of the 'popular super Pope' actually feeds into a sense among some of the Faithful that all is not well within the Catholic Church. In previous ages, when the Catholic Church's Pontiffs refused to burn incense to the false gods of those days, they were lynched and/or murdered for simply refusing to bow to the diabolical gods of the age. Traditional Catholics want the Pope to be the number one enemy of the Church's enemies and, let's be frank, brothers, sisters - don't get your hopes up because for the time being at least, that just ain't happening.
'The day before the embrace in the square, the Vatican released a “preparatory document” for an Extraordinary General Assembly, to be held in October, 2014. Francis has asked a synod of bishops from around the world to come to Rome and talk about families. (The official title is Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization.) The bishops are also supposed to answer a questionnaire about modern families, the actual ones in their communities. More than that, they have been asked, according to Vatican Radio, “to share it as widely as possible”—with laypeople, too. A pilgrim can also be a pollster, asking questions along the way. There are thirty-nine of them in the document, including these:
5. On Unions of Persons of the Same SexWhat Francis seems to be looking for is not a doctrinal or political response to same-sex unions but a pastoral one: taking modern families as they are and live, and seeing how the Catholic Church can be part of their lives. (There is not a question about how best to lobby legislatures.) The synod, according to the document, is meant to address “concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago.” Its summary of these concerns is not in all respects liberal; it mentions “forms of feminism hostile to the Church,” and emphasizes the indissolubility of marriage. And certain situations that it calls novel, like that of single parents and of dowries “understood as the purchase price of the woman,” have been less unheard of than unheeded.
a) Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?
b) What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?
c) What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?
d) In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?
But there are the seeds of something radical here. There is, for one thing, an attempt to get past pretense. It asks how many people “in your particular church” are remarried, or separated, or are children whose families aren’t the kind in church picture books, and how to reach and include them. In terms of abortion, it asks how people could be persuaded to accept the Church’s teachings—but also how good a job churches are doing at teaching them about “natural” means of family planning, like the rhythm method. Mercy was also a word that came up, with regard to families living “irregular” lives.
It’s not too early to wonder if that synod could be a landmark moment for Francis’s papacy, and his Church.'
The moment Robert Mickens has dreamed of all his waking life?
Those who sow in tears will reap in joy. At least, that is most likely what Bobby Mickens is thinking.
Once again, the World's press (Catholic and secular) are shaping up to portray a Church event, namely the 2014 Synod on the Family as a 'moment of extreme rupture' for the Catholic Church, as they did with the Second Vatican Council but could not do with Humane Vitae.
Of course, the World's press did the same in anticipation of Humane Vitae before unleashing Hell on its author, Pope Paul VI for betraying the underlying principles of modernity and its errors. His encyclical was not widely taught by Bishops who are now forced to ask questions of the laity and clergy that they should really be asking of themselves. Do they really understand and desire to proclaim the Church's glorious vision of marriage, the family and why the evils of abortion, artificial contraception and homosexual unions threaten what God has decreed for man's happiness? If the answer is yes, then the only better time than now to begin teaching these timeless truths effectively was yesterday...or forty years ago.
We should pray not only that the Church's mission, while offering compassion and mercy to those who truly desire it, safeguards and defends the sanctity of marriage, sexuality, procreation and the family. It is unthinkable that the Church will change Her body of teaching on all of these things and surely, as Fr Ray Blake suggests, the survey on marriage, sexuality and the family appears to be more of a teaching document.
We should expect the defender of the Deposit of Faith to teach these truths and defend them as vigorously as any lay man and more effectively than any Bishop. Before the Pope is the great communicator of love to the nations, he is the Guardian of the Deposit of Faith, Chief Shepherd of the Faithful and the Prince of the Apostles who 'strengthens the brethren' in faith. The New Yorker asks, 'How Strong is Pope Francis?' The implication by the columnist makes is sound as if the Pope could be 'strong' enough to destroy that which has been handed down into his care.
Mere populism however, is not a sign of strength, but weakness in the face of the World's hatred. I expect that beneath the liberal press's admiration of Pope Francis is a sense of excitement that they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that His Holiness does not want to offend the Church's enemies. That's what the liberal press are really interested in. They are not interested in the Salvation of souls. However, in answer to their question: the answer is most probably, yes. If the Pope went crazy or was crazy and decided to destroy the Faith of the Church from within in an incensed, liberal, modernist frenzy, after that picture, to oppose him in his doing so would be almost impossible and we are getting to the stage where those who were faithful to Jesus Christ and His Truth would be cast as heretics for resisting him, were he to teach error.
The question for The New Yorker and for other media organs is far more important though, than their question: Why is the Pope's message of loving Jesus Christ and hating sin, his message of peace, mercy, justice, reconciliation and, above all, salvation from sin that kills the soul and eternal life in Christ not getting through to you? Why accept with joy the Pope of mercy, love and compassion, but reject the God of mercy, love and compassion in Whose Name he comes? He is an emissary, the Vicar indeed of Christ, not of himself. For surely, just as Francis comes showing mercy and compassion, does he not show you grace and truth? In Francis, we believe that mercy and justice have kissed, but can there be any real mercy, if justice has been missed? For if the World meets only mercy in the Bride of Christ and in its Sovereign Pontiff and meets not truth, then it does not meet Her True Head, Jesus Christ.