Pope Francis in Time Magazine: Does It Matter?

The short answer is, “Of course it matters.” Pope Francis is Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. That’s a good thing.

But it’s not as simple as that, so let’s break it down:

The Good

1. Time is a fading relic of a dying media, but they still retain something of their former image, and the Man of the Year remains one of the few things they do that still generates some attention.

2. All eyes are on the leader of the Catholic church. That’s a good thing. In fact, it’s so good it outweighs what the cynics and critics will be saying. (We’ll get to that a minute.) It’s good for a simple reason:

3. People are hearing the gospel preached. That’s the goal of all we are and all we do: to preach Christ. Francis being declared “Man of the Year” can’t help but draw the gaze of an indifferent and distracted world, if only for a day.

4. This is the whole reason I’m delighted with the pope’s approach despite my misgivings about his occasional lack of clarity and somewhat reckless turns of phrase. Cardinal Bergoglio was a blank slate. Ratzinger never stood a chance: he took his seat on the Chair as JP2′s rottweiler: the Panzerpope. The die was cast from day one, and the dimwitted mainstream media, with their shallow understanding of every person and issue more complex than Paris Hilton, ran that playbook into the ground.

Francis was someone new. They couldn’t dismiss him. And when he showed a different pastoral style, they were confused even further. For some odd reason, their minds couldn’t grasp a pope who could believe all that the church teaches, and yet present it in a very different style. He must be changing the faith! Or, in the words of Time’s nomination blurb, rejecting “dogma.”

5. I hear rumors that Miley Cyrus was in the running., and indeed was an odds-on favorite. It’s a tiny glimmer of hope–one that will quickly fade as the media returns to its empty celebrity obsessions–that the vulgar lost to the sublime.

The Meh

1. I hear rumors that Miley Cyrus was in the running, and indeed was an odds-on favorite. It’s a sorry sign of the times that the choice was between the heir of St. Peter and a talentless attention whore. It’s a win for seriousness, but it should not have been a near-run thing.

2. I’m not going to start jumping with joy because a magazine I consider offensive and irrelevant noticed the bloody obvious: that one man commanded more media attention than any other person this year: stopped clocks, and all that.

3. The decision was partly, or perhaps mostly, political. He seems like an effective club for bludgeoning the right. The media has no soul. All choices, decisions, filters, and lenses are informed by political calculus.

4. Let’s recall some of Time’s other recent covers:

5. So, really: screw Time Magazine. Pope Francis ennobles it. It doesn’t ennoble him. They’ve shown by this decision that some flicker of recognition of goodness and truth remains in them. Or maybe they just stumbled backwards into the choice because the alternatives were just too ridiculous even for them.

6. It’s probable that they chose the right man for the wrong reason. Like many of my friends on the right, my little conservative antenna begin to twitch when people who believe awful things start saying nice things about a Catholic pope. They think he’s a “different” pope who will get rid of all that bad ol’ dogma and usher in a new age of gay marriage, abortion, women priests, contraception, and socialism.

They will be disappointed. They like him because they don’t understand him. He’s preaching exactly what Benedict preached, but in a new voice. Right now, they are responding to that voice. When they get down to the preaching itself, the party will be over.

Final Word

I’m happy to see Pope Francis as the Time Man of the Year. It would be foolish not to be happy. After years of scandal and attack, there’s a brief moment in which the world stops hating us long enough to maybe, just maybe, listen.

See, we have something wonderful: the truth, and the whole truth. We’re the only ones who have that fullness of truth, and that’s a powerful attractant. In a modern media age, getting the fullness of truth before a narcotized, self-obsessed, consumerist society gets harder and harder.

Francis has done something important. He has figured out a way to make people pay attention. Those of us already aboard the barque may get a little nervous as we enter choppy waters looking for people being drowned by this awful modern world, but as the saying goes, although a ship may be safest in harbor, that’s not what ships are built for.

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Kyle

    Responding to one of many of the derisive articles written about him, Cardinal Ratzinger once said, “If I don’t read an article like that every week or so, I have to examine my conscience.” His point was that to be loved by the “world” that Christ refers to as the kingdom of the Enemy, was a dangerous sign. The most authentic encounter between the Church and the modern world will always be one characterized by martyrdom.

    As you point out, TIME magazine’s original article praised Pope Francis’ not for his salvific message but for his “rejection of church dogma.” Whatever Francis intends to accomplish with his accommodative approach, that’s what TIME and its readers carried away from it. It would seem that Cardinal Ratzinger was right.

  • Mary E.

    One thing to say for choice: I paid attention, instead of immediately tuning out the announcement. I couldn’t remember the recent winners so I looked up the last five:
    2012. Barack Obama
    2011. The Protester
    2010. Mark Zuckerberg
    2009. Ben Bernanke
    2008. Barack Obama

    And as you note, at minimum, it wasn’t The Twerker :-) .


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