Pope Francis? We’ve Never Had a Francis Before

Pope Francis 2Now that the, ahem, smoke has cleared….

(What were they burning on the “not yet” votes.  Tires?  The world’s navies don’t have smoke screens that thick.)

Wednesday, at about the right time, I happened to be at my parents’ house for lunch, where my three year old nephew was decidedly unimpressed that history was in the making.  Despite his attempt to steal  the spotlight (he was eventually escorted to the park by his mother), my nephew took the edge off the wait.  All of us were on eggshells.  Realistically, we Catholics had no clue who (or what) was going to walk out on that balcony.

At the announcement of the name of the cardinal elected Bishop of Rome and the name he took as his own for his time of service – Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio takes Francis – the commentator on Fox said, “He is a man of the people…the man is a saint.”  After all the stories have been told, to put it mildly, Francis leads by example.  As  all of the sources that I trust are pretty enthused by this choice, I will go with their opinion and wait to see how he does his job.

When it comes down to it, our new Pope Francis is all that we, the post-Vatican II generation, have been taught it means to be Catholic over the years.  He embodies the two virtues that Catholic culture – when applied correctly – instills.  These two go together to the point that one cannot be without the other.

(The emphasis on it following Vatican II has led to a generational subculture of people currently about 65-76 who eschew all adornment and “extraneous trappings”.  For those of us who do better when experiencing the power of God in some of the extras, it’s a bit of a fight living with these people.)

The first of these virtues is humility.  The example we Catholics are always given of ultimate humility comes from the Gospels.  God’s messenger, the Archangel Gabriel, goes to visit a teenage Jewish girl named Mary and says, “Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed are you among women…you will conceive and bear a son…”  After a short discussion on how this could be, the young virgin Mary did not say, You want me to do WHAT?!, but instead, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.”  She humbled herself to do God’s will, meaning she put aside personal prejudices, desires, family will and more to do what was asked of her without complaint and quietly.  That’s basically what we are taught when we’re told, in God’s eyes none of us is better than the beggar in the street.  It’s up to us to prove that we are worthy.  That’s what our humility is all about.  Pope Francis demonstrated his humility daily as archbishop of Buenes Aires and we saw it in spades in his first 24 hours in the office.

The second virtue Pope Francis demonstrates, that may well be a feature of his pontificate, is what we call serviam, or service to others.  I was blessed to spend my teenage and early adult years under an archbishop who made serviam the thrust of his message to us (to the point that there is an Archbishop May Service Award given at every Catholic high school, regardless of the sponsoring order).  We are to be men and women for others.  We are to take the Beatitudes, and the commands of the Corporal Works of Mercy and act on them – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, harbor the harborless, ransom the captive, visit the sick, and bury the dead.  In Jesus’ name, we are to serve others.  Very much so, this is the root of Francis’ offices so far.  He went to the streets to serve the people of Buenes Aires, and didn’t just sit in a residential house like so many of the Princes of the Church do.

What does this mean for Church teaching?  Back to basics.

The key indicator of what sort of man any pope is, is the people who lash out against him.  In Francis’ case, the predictable leftist-progressive-permissive-marxist-socialist sorts piped up as the new pope has been quite outspoken on the “social issues” of marriage, homosexuality, adoption, killing the unborn, euthanasia, and more.  (He’s already said that these topics are not up for debate.  It’s part of the revelation and must be accepted.  And the leftist messaging of “the pope is not the Church” has already started.)  Not so surprisingly, the more-Catholic-than-the-pope pro-Burke crowd is more than a little beside itself, as their dreams of universal extraordinary form of the Mass are dashed for now.  (Several of my circle who are traditional leaners have been downright embarrassed by the whining and nashing of teeth on some of the trad sites.  Seriously, is whether or not he wears gloves while handling a Crosier that important?)  It’s doubtful that suppression of the indult will happen again, but that’s their big worry.  So the unhappy ones would be the far left and the far right.  That’s actually a good sign.

From all we can tell, Francis is a theologically orthodox, no nonsense, call ‘em like he sees ‘em very intelligent old school Catholic man who sees no use in the non-devotional add-ons “traditional” Catholics hold so dear.  (Non-devotional practices, particularly in liturgy where everyone has a preference, are a wedge right now among Mass goers.)  He does not subscribe to liberation theology or the seamless garment ideals that his fellow Jesuits have been known to teach.  He has called out hypocrites, even among his fellow cardinals, for selective application of some of the sacraments, particularly infant Baptism.  He favors denial of sacraments for unrepentant politicians (not excommunication, but equally damning in the faithful’s eyes).

Pope Francis at iconDevotional life, which Francis seems to espouse, is sorely lacking among even the regular faithful.  All reports say that he is a daily full Rosary devotee, takes advantage of Eucharistic Adoration, does the first Saturday devotion which is a fruit of Fatima and I would imagine a couple others (Brown Scapular maybe?  That would suit his style, which is old school).  He is, as we say, a Mary Man, revering the woman who submitted to God’s will to help bring about salvation.  For a Jesuit in the current time period, that’s a big deal.  For us, in prayer and devotion, this is the basics.  That he led the crowd in St. Peter’s Square in the three prayers we all know from the time we start school says to us – this is important.  There does not need to be anything fancy in it.

What to expect from Pope Francis?

To be honest, I don’t think any of us really knows, except for vigorous re-evangelization of those who have fallen away and, I suspect, encouraging the faithful to a rich interior prayer life.  But, there are three lingering “failures” more or less left from the pontificate of Blessed Pope John Paul II (and Paul VI to be honest) that most watchers assume will be dealt with.

The first is the cleanout of the career bureaucrats in the Curia.  (It’s not just the US State Department that has this problem.)  When “Vatican Officials”  are quoted clearly saying something controversial, half the time it’s one of the lifers.  They need to go.  Traditionally, the day after a pope is elected, he signs a document keeping on the staff of the Curia, and Pope Francis did not do that.  At least not the first day.  JPII and Benedict prefered attrition as a way to replace troublesome underlings.  Francis may go another, more linear direction.

The second little “issue” is transparency of the Vatican Bank, which has been a recurring theme for decades.  Supposedly, it’s better now than it used to be, but Pope John Paul I famously made this a priority and 33 days later was found dead.  (There may be nothing to it, but there’s always been rumors that his death was not natural.)  It’s just something that is going to take time.

The big, glaring topic, though, is bringing the Jesuits back in line.  JPII was not able to do it and Benedict didn’t really try, but as the Jesuits serve – always serve – the intentions of the pope, they really need to be theologically orthodox and vigorous in their love for Christ and His Bride, the Church.  As Pope Francis has been frequently at odds with his superiors in the order, it may well be he is the one who knows the right way to go about dealing with the wayward God’s marines, who seem to have forgotten that they are missionary servants, not rebels.  (This is why after almost 500 years, there has never been a Jesuit pope and very few in episcopal offices – the Jesuit place is to serve.  Given the choice – and believe it or not, they are usually given a choice – most do not accept higher office.)

All you need to know about a pope is his name….

So, why take the name Francis?  Based on what we now know of his humility, simplicity and service, for the most part just about everyone assumes that the name was taken in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, one of our most beloved saints (and founder of an order different than Pope Francis’) as this pope chooses to live a life almost modeled in the Franciscan tradition.  There’s other possibilities though.  Three other saints from the 16th century bore the name Francis – Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary who evangelized the far east; Francis Borgia, another Jesuit who worked the streets of Rome; and Francis de Sales, a great theologian and doctor of the church.  It could be all of them rolled into one. We’ll just have to wait and see.

(Actually, for many of us who are Catholic, the name Francis was a bit of a jolt.  I’m just hoping hair shirts, one of St. Francis of Assisi’s favorite devotional items, don’t become a staple accessory.  Temporal piety can be accomplished without them.)

We have a new pope: truly a new start as he is the first elected from “The New World”, the first from a truly missionary order, and the first to take the name of a saint who popularized hard living as a way to be closer to God.  At the same time, following a theme of the last three, this pope came to religious life older than many of his classmates (in Catholicism, this is a good thing.  He knew worldly life before giving it up), was persecuted in his home country for standing up for his convictions and took a job he really doesn’t want because it needs to be done.  I’m going to go out on a limb and expect that the pope will anger many people, American conservatives among them, due to his stance on caring for the poor – but that is his job.  And don’t forget, before the republican forms of government, the Church was the check on monarchial greed, exhorting kings to finance poorhouses and the like from their own pockets.  Republican governments don’t operate that way, but the poor we will always have with us.  This is the message he will convey, although historically Francis has advocated for personal charity over wealth redistribution.

Now, on a personal note, I wonder what his stance is on sublime sacred music….

For more in-depth analysis, dependable sources are George Weigel, Carl Olson, and Rocco Palma.  In a pinch, the John Allen bio is decent although slanted pretty left.

Just as an aside, in the 1978 conclaves that elected both Popes John Paul, participants have said that the presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable, especially at the second one.  Karol Wojtyoa was not on ANYONE’s radar – except God’s.  We have to trust that the Holy Spirit chose wisely yet again.

Categories: Catholic Church, Christianity

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1 reply


  1. Another Rock Star Pope…Psst: Nothing Has Changed « The Constitution Club

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