Tribalism and Blowing an Evangelistic Opportunity

I have heard from any number of people expressing horror–yes, horror–at the idea that people on the cultural and political left find Francis attractive.  In the early Church, a Paul would have seized such an opportunity to preach the gospel to a receptive audience.

But in our tribalized culture of identity politics, and aided and abetted by the Conservative Anti-Charism of Discernment, the Reactionary (whose primary interest is in driving out the impure, not in reaching out to the sinner) no thought is given to Francis as an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus.  Instead, the focus is entirely on the terror that if Jane Fonda or Obama or Jon Stewart or Tina Fey like him (based, of course, on lousy MSM reportage about him) then the main thing we need to devote our energy to is not, God forbid, having a conversation with such people about the Faith Francis proclaims, nor even coming to clearly understand the distinction between what he actually says and what the media reports.

Nope. The *main* thing we need to do is tremble with terror that the Pope is spoken of with approval by the Wrong People.  Has NARAL praised him based on garbled press?  Then the key thing is that the Enemy likes him, not that it might be a chance to speak to the Enemy (a view shared by the people offended that Jesus spoke with centurions).  If Those People like him, why then something is terribly, terribly wrong and we need to panic because a False Prophet and Heretic now sits upon the Chair of Peter.  God forbid we should be glad of the chance to talk about the Catholic faith with an Obama, Fonda or Stewart.  Let’s appoint ourselves Defenders of the Faith against the Pope instead.

The vision of the Church here is simple, clear, and desperately wrong: it is the conviction that the Church is on the ropes, fighting a defensive battle and that, any minute, the Pope (and lets face it, the whole magisterial office) is going to sell the gospel down the river and that only Reactionaries–and in particular some folk hero like the quack Maria Divine Mercy–can save us.  And salvation consists, not of evangelizing, but of retreating into Fortress Katolicus.  The Reactionary goal, as ever, is to *retreat* from the world, to shrink the Church, to keep as many people out, and to regard any moment in which the culture opens itself to the gospel as a Very Bad Sign, not as an opportunity.

Or we could seize this opportunity, stop assuming the Pope is a threat to the Faith, think like evangelists and not people playing defense, and proclaim the Faith to a culture that, for a very brief window of opportunity, happens to be listening.

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  • HornOrSilk

    100% in agreement. I’m seeing more and more “conservatives” on the net (I use that term in quotes, because they don’t represent historical conservative values) saying things like: Francis will be declared a heretical Pope, Francis is an anti-Pope, Francis should just shut up, and the like.

    They are upset at someone who is centered on Christ more than politics. And their politics are very Americanized politics, showing why they can’t grasp the Pope. It’s sad, but, I think this might be a need the Church has had for sometime. These people felt they called the shots, the style of the faith; and while they sometimes said good things, their core wasn’t rooted in Christ. We need Christ first!

    • Paxton Reis

      “They are upset at someone who is centered on Christ more than politics. And their politics are very Americanized politics…”

      And showing the Gospel message has is not heeded or deeply rooted.

    • Daniel G. Fink

      I’m trying my best to understand Pope Francis in the manner in which it is suggested here. However, it has nothing to do with politics when some are desiring a greater degree of precision in Pope Francis’ statements.

      • BillyT92679

        Honestly, I don’t think we need that much precision. The precision is already there. (I know, Spirit of Vatican II and all that, but there are plenty of pre-con, conciliar, and post-conciliar docs that are quite clear). I think we do need charity.

        Do we need Ed Hochuli to break down all the nuances of why a penalty was a penalty in an NFL game? Sure, it’s helpful, but it can also be seen as cumbersome and detracting away from the game itself. Taking something aesthetically beautiful and turning it into merely a set of laws.

      • Dan C

        He has said little that differs substantially from Benedict.

        • Andy, Bad Person

          I wish more people realized that. His emphasis and style may be different from Benedict’s, but the message is the same.

  • Good points. We’ve only got a problem if:

    a) The Enemy (not our fellow flawed humans who have been enemized, but The Enemy) likes him.

    b) His message, after it is garbled in transmission, serves to encourage people who aren’t disciples of Christ, or who are lousy disciples of Christ (such as yours truly), to relax and not change a thing.

    I think it’s reasonable to have some concerns about b). Though it’s certainly not reasonable to use those concerns as an excuse to panic, or to stop evangelizing, or to wave one’s arms shouting “pay no attention to that man behind the Throne of Peter!”

    • Dan C

      All I know is that individuals dismissive of the Faith, primarily because it gets lumped in with Damnation-threatening Evangelicals, are asking about Catholicism. I have little evidence that the people I attend Church with are relaxing on the job.

      And he says little different than Benedict. You are just now hearing it for the first time.

      • Dave G.

        Damnation threatening Evangelicals? Would they be in the same group as those Mary worshiping Catholics? FWIW, most Evangelicals don’t associate themselves with the more hard line fundamentalists – those that are left – who spew the old fire and brimstone.

        • Dan C

          Try reading some of the Evangelical critiques of Francis’s interviews and letters to the atheist. They formally retain a limited view of salvation. So…yes, unless “accepting Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior” these folks are all about damnation.

          • Dave G.

            If you mean they continue to maintain the belief that hell could be a real possibility as one travels this sod, then perhaps. Though pointing me to some of these critiques might be a better way, since I’m trying to imagine the Evangelicals I knew who consider themselves Evangelicals who would toss fire and brimstone at Francis, and it just isn’t registering. So some sources would do wonders.

  • whimsy

    When you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.” Luke 17
    It seems like the choir resents not being preached to, and is not feeling affirmed enough.
    I especially like the pope’s strong words against loneliness, especially after having read about the scourge of pxxx over at Waiting for Godot to Leave. Surely loneliness is an epidemic, a disease searching for a cure in all the wrong places.

    • D.T. McCameron

      Mmm! A sort of cosmic loneliness? An infinitely large hole and a longing to match in our hearts; something to do with the post-modern ennui?

      So the loneliness the Holy Father described calls for more than regular visits to the nursing home. ^_^

    • whimsy

      I might add, though, that just like some were devastated by the election(s) going to Obama, it hasn’t deterred the pluck of the pro-life movement one bit. And I predict the pro-lifers will actually rise above themselves and keep plugging away, doing the work of God, with or without the perception of papal appreciation. BTW, I took zero offense at being “obsessed with small things” because pro-life work is no small thing.

    • KM

      I’m so glad that Pope Francis mentioned the loneliness of old people and the despair of young people. A year ago, our priest addressed the problem of alienation. He said a prayer for those of us who felt alienated not just in our culture but in our own church.

      Reaching out to others has been one really good solution. Serving members of my own community and my own family has helped me with my healing. In the latter case, “serving” meant to listen and bring flowers for old and/or ailing people in my family. For the former, it has meant getting to know my neighbors and joining a community group that has been fighting for a change in a city law.

  • Paxton Reis

    “In the early Church, a Paul would have seized such an opportunity to preach the gospel to a receptive audience.”

    For those troubled by the current state of affairs and direction of events, Paul’s letters are a great source of encouragement and support for when one is struggling and needing a reminder what the end focus is, and that patience, gentleness, and hope will go a long way in strengthening one’s heart.

  • Rachel

    Exactly. I was on another blog site and a fella was angry that Pope Francis said that the worst crisis we face today is the old are very lonely and the young are in despair due to unemployment. He was angry that the Pope would think these are the worst issues instead of abortion, et al. His reaction and the reaction of some others I think prove what Pope Francis was talking about with some people’s obsession with abortion, etc. In the zeal (even though the heart might be in the right place) to oppose abortion, other serious issues are thrown to the wayside, including being all things to all men and preach the Gospel always, in words if necessary. That is what we must be doing.

    • Paxton Reis

      On the very day Pope Francis was appointed, I was stopped by a radio reporter as I exited noon Mass. She was seeking reactions concerning the new pope, of course I knew nothing but his name as the announcement occurred just prior to Mass.

      She then asked what I thought was the biggest challenge facing the Church and I replied along the lines: “Preaching the Gospel in a world full of consumerism and materialism.”

      I suspect she was seeking something along the lines of same-sex marriage, clergy abuse, abortion, etc.

      We are called to live and to bring the Good News to unbelievers, and Pope Francis is challenging us to do. Amen for that!

    • KM

      Exactly. If we want to change the culture, we need to change hearts and minds. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we must first change our hearts so that we are able to listen and talk to (not yell at or lecture) people.

      • capaxdei

        “…we must first change our hearts so that we are able to listen and talk to (not yell at or lecture) people.”

        Talk *with* people.

        • KM

          Yes. Talk with people. Unfortunately I cannot edit my comment.

    • BillyT92679

      I think I know who you were referring, and that post, and the tone around it really bugged me.

      • Rachel

        yes, he was being a jerk and that was upsetting to me

    • Barfly_Kokhba

      I thought the Pope’s exact phrasing (albeit in translation) was “the worst evils,” referring to youth unemployment and elder loneliness.

      To me, that is a disturbing statement, and not just because of the moral implications. Yes, I admit that I am one of those old-fashioned lunatic zealots who thinks that having the government endorse the routine practice of slicing babies out of their mothers’ wombs and tossing the carcasses of those murdered human beings into medical waste bins is a worse evil than recent college grads not getting enough overtime hours at their espresso-stand job.

      But I also think he’s simply incorrect from a purely secular, sociological standpoint. Even if I approved of abortion and the abolition of marriage, I would scoff at anyone who claimed youth unemployment to be one of the two “worst evils” in the world economy. It strikes me as an out-of-touch, slightly pandering sentiment intended to snag a little of that Hope You Can Believe In© magic.

      • Rachel

        I don’t understand why it can’t be both? I guess I’m not understanding me but why do you think women have abortions? What circumstances are they in that would lead to it? I see abortion as largely symptomatic of deeper problems. Problems that the Holy Father has touched on. One of them is unemployment and despair. If you feel that you have no future then why prepare for it? Why have children? Why not just live for the present and forget about family life, children, etc if there is no future? These are the questions that the Holy Father is trying address. I’ve spoken with younger people and I sense a profound pessimism and despair that I didn’t feel was there when I was a teenager. I think the Holy Father is onto something. I think this is also what is driving the new atheist trends as well.

        • Barfly_Kokhba

          But he didn’t say any of that. You’re right, it COULD be both. I would ask him the same question you’re asking me. It is precisely his use of the superlative “worst evil,” thereby precluding the defense that you’re offering on his behalf, that is so problematic.

          I’m not trying to be rude, but you’re engaging in highly spurious rhetorical contortions on his behalf, and reading a LOT of significant inferences that simply aren’t there. He could have said any of that. He didn’t even seem to imply it. Instead, he seemed very passionate and sincere in implicitly declaring that, if we had to make a to-do list of fixing the Worst Evils on Earth Today, getting every teenager and twenty-something a full-time job working at a cubicle for GlobeCo, Inc. would be right at the top of the list.

          Young people today have been raised in a culture that openly endorses, even promotes, the murder of children by their mothers and fathers, with the help of trained and licensed child-murdering professionals. I’m in my thirties and human abortion has been legal in my native country since before I was born.

          Perhaps–and I admit that this is not a new argument, but rather one of those old obsessive theories long-repeated by black-hearted reactionaries–being raised in a culture that places no intrinsic value on human life whatsoever is what has cause so much increased despair and nihilism among youth today.

          Legalized child-sacrifice came before the “youth unemployment crisis,” so I don’t see how the latter could be seen as the cause of the former.

          • Rachel

            All I’m saying that if one is not employed and don’t have much chance of being employed, that can lead to despair. Of course abortion has been around for many centuries as well as infanticide. One of the main reasons why they happened was poverty, extreme poverty. Perhaps with large amount of young being unemployed, etc the possibility of raising families is very slim. I think he is touching on an important issue that we don’t hear a lot about. You might not think that unemployment is a terrible issue but it is for a lot of people. Is abortion evil, of course it is. Will it go away? No, it probably won’t. Remember that Pope Francis is from a country that has dire poverty. He’s seen it on the streets and that situation can be multiplied across the entire globe. Abortion is a terrible evil but it is not the only one and yes I sincerely believe that the way our economic system is set up leads to more abortions as well. Take a look at a study that was done about why women get abortions: . The top reasons are that either they are not ready to have a kid because they are still in school and trying to establish themselves or they can’t afford to have one. If this study is correct then in addition to dealing with the issue of abortion, how about also dealing with other underlying issues that lead to abortion?

            • Barfly_Kokhba

              I’m sorry, for once I’m not trying to be brash or rude or even polemic, so I should stop this conversation right here. I understand what you’re trying to say, but your words are only confirming my awful suspicion.

              To me, your sentiment seems to be a perhaps-unintentionally equivocal version of:

              “It’s time to put the abolition of human abortion on the back-burner. Talking about it is making people upset, so just forget it. Yes, babies are being openly, systematically murdered in your own country. Forget it. Maybe your neighbor–or your daughter, with the help of a friendly government social worker–will decide to have a living human baby cut out of her womb and tossed in a trash can. But it’s probably because she can’t find a good job. Stop obsessing over it. Let it go.”

              I can’t do that. Blood is crying out from the ground. The abolition of human abortion is no less a serious issue than the abolition of human slavery. How many people in the 18th and 19th centuries,who knew better in their hearts, willfully ignored the issue of human slavery in their midst because they didn’t want to antagonize Polite Society? Our generation(s) will be judged for what we are doing. Kind words and McJobs don’t ameliorate that.

              • Rachel

                That isn’t what I’m trying to say however, in the past forty years, the pro-life movement have constantly talked about this one held marches, protests, lobbied in Washington, etc. Its gone nearly nowhere. Sure, abortions are actually down but we can’t talk about it ALL the time. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis has said this. What I am going for here is a both/and and comprehensive approach. Something is wrong in the approach. Its not helping so perhaps we need to change tactics, maybe? No, I’m not saying to put it completely on the back burner. This is one of my major problems with the pro-life movement is that whenever I talk to pro-lifers about addressing these other issues, I always get shot down as if I don’t care about millions of babies being killed. I like to look at underlying causes. Yes, abortion is terrible, it is evil but we have to look at the underlying causes and perhaps address those? Do you have compassion for the mothers? For those who feel they have no choice? Or does it only extend to the babies? And when the babies are born, then what? See, after the babies are born, the issues of unemployment/poverty, etc become more pertinent, right??? Perhaps I just sound like a moron liberal about this. Kind words do help, especially when one is wounded. We are a field hospital for a reason.

              • BillyT92679

                I really can’t see how she is doing that at all. Honestly, I don’t. She isn’t equating anything. She is stating that things like youth unemployment and elderly neglect are really bad things, which they are. They’re not abortion bad, but they aren’t neutral either.

      • Dan C

        Unemployment is a symptom of an economic system that excludes people from a share in Creation.

        It is one of the extensively discussed matters in the third encyclical of Benedict, something paid far more attention than abortion, by the way.

        I recommend reading Benedict. Francis is just saying what Benedict said. You just ignored it the first time.

        • Barfly_Kokhba

          And I’ll likely do it this time as well. My views on abortion have nothing to do with Church doctrine or what the Pope says. I would hold the same opinion of human abortion if I were an atheist. My interest in the Pope’s statements is peripheral, and solely because I am a nominal, baptized Catholic. But if the Pope came out tomorrow and said third-trimester abortion was okey-dokey by the Church, it wouldn’t affect my own opinion one bit.

          Human abortion is a seriously evil institution, no less evil than institutionalized human slavery. It is not even remotely in the same category as so-called gay marriage, although I oppose the latter also. And it is certainly not in the same category as “youth unemployment.” In fact, the more I think about it, the more the “youth unemployment” remark offends my liberal sensibilities rather than my conservative ones.

          • ganganelli

            You are, in a way, lucky being just a “nominal” catholic. Many studies have shown that abortion is greatly reduced in countries that actively support sex education and promote contraception. Abortion is rare(although legal) in Scandinavia for example. In other words many fewer babies are being killed in places where abortion is legal then where it is illegal. Why is that?

            • Stu

              Because they have through intense contraception made children rare.

      • Rachel K

        Keep in mind that the situation in Europe is very different from the situation here. Youth unemployment doesn’t mean “recent college grads not getting enough overtime hours at their espresso-stand job” over there–it means that unless you’re already employed, it’s nigh impossible to find work. As the Pope points out in the interview, this leads to hopelessness and crushes “the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family,” which is going to lie at the root of a whole lot of other evils–abortion included.

        • Rachel

          Thank you, Thank you Rachel K. This is exactly what I’ve tried to say.

          • Rachel K

            We Rachels think alike. 😉

    • Dan C

      Was that Simcha Fisher’s site? And quite frankly, she was sympathetic to the fact that she did not see unemployment as one of the Big Deals Catholics should worry about in social matters.

      In this economy run by these corporations, it is something every family should worry about. Because, left to the anti-abortion Republicans, the philosophy is the Paul Ryan dictum: “You’re on your own.”

      • Rachel

        yeah, it was 🙁 and you are correct that we need to be more concerned about this situation

        • Dan C

          Again, I ask, “where was she during Benedict’s tenure? Was she listening or just presuming she knew what he was saying? Or was their more deliberation in ignoring the silly old white European socialist theology professor?

          • Rachel

            Hard to say. I’ve felt the same way about the war issue. Many of these same bloggers were for the Iraq/Afghanistan war when Pope John Paul II was clearly opposed to it. Before the Motu Proprio came out in 2007 freeing the tridentine Mass, you hardly heard anything about the Mass in Catholic media. In fact, what you did hear was negative. After the MP came out, you started to hear positive things about it in Catholic media. I’ve noticed the same things now with the war and unemployment issues. Granted, under Benedict, his documents on the economic crisis, etc fell on a ton of deaf ears. He was saying a lot of the same stuff that Pope Francis is saying now but many in the Catholic media, etc are very selective in their hearing and project an image of the Church who is only concerned with the abortion/contraception/gay marriage/HHS mandate issues. It is this projection that definitely has some truth to it that I think that Pope Francis is addressing. WE can’t talk about these issues ad nauseum, all the time and expect them to magically go away if we have the magic number of SC justices overturn roe v. wade, etc It doesn’t work out that way. Sadly, abortion/infanticide has always been around in the most “Christian” of societies. Why do you think there were foundling hospitals? It was a way for people, Many of them in dire poverty, to get rid of their kids since they couldn’t feed them. Many people are in poverty today, yes, even here in the USA. There is alot of suffering and pain. We need to help them. We can’t just focus on eradicating abortion at the expense of the poor getting poorer, the young increasingly having no future, and the old getting forgotten. That can’t be what we are about, is it?

      • Chatsworth

        Do tell us where you got this alleged quote from Paul Ryan. Never mind, I can do it for you — you just made it up. That’s your warped interpretation of what he says. But feel free to lie if it helps you make your point. Which is a stupid one. Sheesh.

        • Dan C

          The quoted summation of Paul Ryan’s philosophy of government responsibility to those in need comes, not from me or from Paul Ryan (who does not have much “pithiness” in him, but from commentators like Bill Bannon on First Things while critiquing the Ryan Economic plan in September 2012 and how hard it would be to try to sell such matters, while pushing tax cuts.

          The other commentators, like Mr. Bannon, are reliable conservatives. This was his assessment.

          From Mr. Bannon on 9-12-2012 (

          “It would help if the Democratic convention’s description of Romney/Ryan as “you’re on your own” was easily refutable. It’s not. In any Catholic old age home, 60 to 67 percent of the elderly are paid for by medicaid which Ryan hoped to cut back at the Federal level by $800 billion in ten years immediately. Ryan, a millionaire by marriage, will never need medicaid even if he needs a breathing machine and a heart monitor at 88 years old. The hard worker from his own small business who saved $300,000 in a lifetime will need medicaid after five years in skilled nursing home care takes the savings. Nor are Romney/ Ryan supplying detail as to their actual tax cuts and eliminations of exemptions…mortgage interest anyone? Larry Kudlow on CNBC, a Ryan fan, couldn’t get Ryan to be specific and
          that breeds distrust. The lack of detail may be one thing that brings down their ticket in the debates. The clearing up of Europe, furthered this AM in Germany, will boost 401’s and help the incumbent. Romney promised 12 million jobs but it turns out that Moody’s analytics and others predicted 12 million jobs organically in coming years regardless of who wins. Trust and high purpose are not in the air except on several sex/ life issues but even by Weigel’s best case scenario, in the US of the future, females wanting abortions will have to commute to abortion states.
          I will vote for Romney/ Ryan but it”

          Its a great summation. I like the whole quote.

      • If they thought Francis was just reading about unemployment, with all due respect, they missed his point. The point was that through the exmaples of chronic youth unemployment throughotu the civilized world and the lonliness the eldery feel, society has lost two of its basic functions: to provide hope for the young, and comfort for the old. What’s even worse is that now they don’t evne bother trying to have hope.
        It was Catholic Social teaching 101: people will pay scant attention to spiritual needs when they’ve lost all hope in regards to their temporal needs.

  • Nah, I got no criticism. Catholics need to be quick on their feet, willing to capitalize on any opportunity presented.

    Sure a lot of the people who “love” the Pope don’t really love him, and many times (like Andrew Sullivan) they are just trolling faithful Catholics. But he’s being talked about. Have had several friends who are hostile to the Church either ask me about him, or talk about the interviews warmly. So whatever one thinks, it’s an opportunity.

  • Stephen

    I agree with you, though I myself can get an allergic reaction to some of this stuff. Basically because:

    1) I worry that some of the positive feeling for Pope Francis from those on the “left” (whatever that means) is less a positive reaction to what he’s saying than it is a positive reaction to the perception that he’s affirmatively trashing his predecessors (Read: Folks like Andrew Sullivan who seem convinced that Francis is actively attempting to humiliate and repudiate Pope Benedict, which is just a crazy hypothesis.).

    2) A related frustration that people seem to be finding Francis’s message so “fresh” and “novel” when in fact much of it is deeply consistent with what Pope Benedict was preaching for years. And I don’t mean that in the sense that both are obviously orthodox Catholics generally. But in the sense that both are Romano Guardini-influenced, Communion and Liberation-loving Catholic Humanists specifically.

    Oh well – if it serves the propagation of the Gospel so be it. So be it in abundance.

  • AnsonEddy

    Mark, any chance for a little compassion for people who are feeling nervous? Could you maybe come alongside us and walk with us a bit and maybe share your faith and optimism? Any chance that instead of yelling and shaming people who are feeling uneasy, you could maybe instead show us the reasons for your hope? Maybe be a big brother here. I know I could use one. I’ll be spending time with my evangelical family this week. The family that still thinks I’m a flake for abandoning the sound teachings of AW Tozier, Max Lucado, Josh McDowell, and Rick Warren for the curious barque of Saint Peter. I’ve spent six years trying to explain to them that the Catholic Church is the unbroken line back to Jesus, the repository of faith for once and all time. For months I’ve been trying to parse Pope Francis for them. For months I’ve been trying to explain why what the Pope is saying doesn’t represent a rupture in the faith. But I know they’re starting to think that maybe I’m parsing a little too much. Maybe I sound a bit too much like a guy who bought a pig in a poke and wants to save face. Any chance I could get a, “I understand the source of your nervousness. I can see that you are suffering a bit for the faith right now. But here, let me give you the reasons for hope…” Instead of, “You guys need to get with program here! You need to suck it up and put some points on that scoreboard!” Because honestly, it isn’t working for me. I hate, hate, hate that I’ve been nodding along while reading Rod Dreher lately as he trumpets his relief about jumping from the Church of Rome to the Church of the East. But I have been. And I’ve lost sleep and felt sick to my stomach over it.

    • BillyT92679

      But it’s faith, right? If you knew, if you made an intellectual decision, a rational choice, and believed that the Holy Roman Church had the fullness of faith, then there isn’t anything that should be able to shake it.

      I mean Benedict IX probably murdered people. We all know about Alexander VI. If the gates of hell won’t prevail, the gates of hell won’t prevail.

      I’ll pray for you. We’re all called, not just the Holy Father, to “confirm the brethren.” You’ll be fine man.

    • Rachel

      I understand how you are feeling about it but remember that the Holy Father isn’t saying anything contrary to the Faith. We’ve had MUCH worse, just look at our history. That said, I remember being very defensive when the sex abuse scandals came out a decade ago. That was painful. The Holy Father’s approach to evangelization is in keeping with Our Lord Jesus Christ. Basically its the honey is sweeter than vinegar approach. We live in a very sad and lonely world and I think that Pope Francis is showing that somebody cares. Somebody loves. Relax. I know its easy to get nervous but just relax and pray not just for yourself but for Pope Francis as well. Remember that it was one of the first things he did when he stepped out onto the loggia.

    • chezami

      I have all kinds of compassion for people who are feeling nervous. I have very little compassion for people make an idol of their nerves and go full speed ahead with denunciations of the Pope as a heretic and traitor based on nothing but their jitters and discomfort with having to think outside their boxes.

      • Stu

        Maybe you need to have compassion for them as well. Maybe that is your challenge.

        Just as there can be a fine line between love and hate, I think for some the notion of change in the Church is unsettling because it shakes their faith and thus some strong reaction. Seems to me that we want to help those people as much as we would the unbeliever.

    • Alexander

      I agree AnsonEddy. No need to trash those who have some understandable nervousness about some of the Pope’s statements. No need to inaccuarately accuse us of wanting “to shrink the Church.” Hardly.
      The fact is that the Pope has said some wonderful things and has opened new doors for the re-evangelization of the secular world. But many of his statements have been imprecise and unnecessarily so. People like Jimmy Akin are having to write an article every week to explain why the first, natural reading of the Pope’s remarks (as read by both the Catholic faithful and the secular world) is incorrect and how the statements are, when read with a whole lot context, really consistent with the longstanding teaching of the Church. The Pope could have made all of his key points and shown his loving charisma and actions without generating the huge waves of confusion that his comments have created.
      And the consequences are real: all of the bishops who have started to show spine over the years on issues like abortion and the HHS mandate have been undercut tremendously by the imprecise, imprudent remarks. Every continued attempt to show spine will be greeted with the response that “the Pope says you shouldn’t be so obssessed with these issues.” The bishops can rightly try to explain otherwise, but it will be lost in the noise.

    • capaxdei

      Maybe you *are* parsing a little too much. Maybe your stomachache is a sign you should just say to your evangelical family, “Yeah, Argentinian Jesuit popes, amiright? Pass the butter, please.”

      Me, I look at Pope Francis this way:

      Within the Church, he is making his office a pastoral one, not a kingly one. A pastor smells like his sheep, he is out among them. People don’t follow pastors around, writing down their every word in gold ink. You don’t parse your pastor’s words, you listen to them and see how they apply in your own life. Maybe a king, up in his castle, only rarely lets fall a word heard by his subjects; a pastor talks to people every day — and yes, if you don’t like the sound of his voice, that can get old quick.

      Stepping back, I’d say the big-picture message all of this has for Catholics is this: It’s okay if a pope emphasizes the pastoral. Bigger picture: It’s even okay if the pope over-emphasizes the pastoral, or if he spends all of his waking hours solving crossword puzzles in the gardens of Castel Gandolfo. It’s good for the Church, and good for the world, to have a good pope. But the Church is not the pope’s property, nor are Catholics his chattel. There is no “X” for which “The pope has done X, therefore the Church will collapse,” is true.

      I’d guess you’re most concerned with the reports of the Pope’s words to the world beyond the Church (which, I’d say, includes most reporters on airplanes). Here, I see Pope Francis as acting on his prudential judgment (which, the Church teaches, may be wrong) that the way he should relate to the world is, first, to establish a relationship — in particular, a relationship of loving service. If what we have to give to the world is Jesus Christ — if you read his homilies and audiences, you know Pope Francis believes this — then the way he sees us being able to give the world Jesus, such that they accept Him, is the way of mercy.

      I happen to think he’s pretty much right about all that. But let’s say he’s not. Suppose he is naive, or reckless, or a disaster, or even a heretic. So then maybe I picked the wrong papacy to stop sniffing glue (probably don’t want to use that line with your evangelical family unless they’re big fans of the Zuckers), but none of that would touch what the Church herself teaches about the papacy itself, much less what she teaches about the Church as a whole.

      You know, there are plenty of Catholics alive today who have thought one or more of the previous popes they’ve lived through were naive, or reckless, or a disaster, or even a heretic. The response is not despair (much less paying any attention to what a professional anti-Catholic like Rod Dreher says). The response is to recognize that, while the Church was founded *on* the Rock of Peter, it was founded *by* Jesus Christ, Whose Bride and Body it is, and will forever be.

    • Nervousness is fine and completely natural. As is doubt. Just make sure to doubt the doubt. And if one is nervous, ask questions. Respect your state in the Church.

      That’s a diference than a lot of the criticism (and not just from traditionalists hence why Mark is right to say “reactionaries) going on over the Pope who try to interpret his work through an ideological prism, and are busy arguing in public about this or that, when instead, they should be realizing they have a real opportunity to engage these people.

      Over the past two weeks, I’ve had more people come to me asking about the Church than in awhile. I’m not the largest fan of Francis. I don’t think more collegiality is the solution to the fevah, nor do I think all we need to do is implement “the real vatican II.” Yet all of that is more or less quibbling. People are talking about the Pope and the faith, so let’s engage them on it.

  • Andy

    I guess I am not either bright enough or I do not understand the Catholic faith. What Francis has said has not troubled me. Benedict talked to my inner life very clearly – I didn’t always appreciate it, because he was making me uncomfortable as hell, but I needed it. Benedict called me to look more closely at the Gospels and to try and be more mindful of prayer. Francis is talking to my outer life. He is calling me to wear and display the message of the church on my sleeve, my face and most importantly in my interactions. That is equally as uncomfortable.
    The idea of parsing what Francis says is as much strange to me as parsing what Benedict said. I don’t see the lack of precision. In fact I see precision – I see a man who is communicating a very clear message. We must meet people where they are before we begin to find fault. We must see people as our companions, that like us they have troubles, they have sins and they have strengths. He is sending us on a mission armed only with the word of God. He is pointing out that for many the only expression of the word of God they hear is condemnation, and condemnation does not lead to conversion.
    The fact that Francis is able to penetrate strongholds of the enemy and have them hear him is great. It should not give us reasons doubt Francis, it should give us reasons to see the power of the word of GOd when delivered in a quiet and gentle voice, not a voice without power, but a voice assured of the power of the message.

  • Rosemarie


    Part of me is glad that these people like Pope Francis, since some of them might just take a second look at the Church because of him. OTOH, another part of me is apprehensive, since their positive attitude toward him might be shaped by all the distortions of his message from the MSM. In which case, they may be in for a very hard fall when the inevitable disillusionment arrives.

    But by all means, we should appeal to them in the meantime. If we can help them understand the full context of his statements (that the Church’s moral teachings are based on the dignity of human life, elevated by the Incarnation and Redemption, and must be understood in light of that and not as a petty list of do’s and don’ts intended to control people’s lives) maybe they will see the Catholic Church differently than they did in the past.

    • capaxdei

      There’s a model (which comes from work done by Evangelicals, but Sherry Weddell & Co, have found it to be very useful in Catholic settings) of the “five thresholds” in the spiritual journey, from no faith to a full embrace of Jesus Christ. The evangelist figures out which threshold the other person is standing before, and then helps them to cross (all with God’s grace).

      The five thresholds are: Initial Trust; Spiritual Curiosity; Spiritual Openness; Spiritual Seeking; and Intentional Discipleship.

      You will fail (according to the model) if you try to get someone to cross a later threshold when they’re still standing at an earlier one. (Sherry’s major message, by the way, is that so so much of what the Catholic Church does assumes Catholics are across the “Intentional Discipleship” threshold, when empirically huge numbers of baptized and even Mass-going Catholics are back at trust or curiosity.)

      What I think the Pope has done, in terms of this model. is to bring many people — who used to, and probably for the most part still kind of do, hate the Church — to the threshold of trust. They trust that he, at least, doesn’t want to stand over their graves gloating at the thought that they are burning in hell.

      If so, then yes, they’re still at a point where disillusionment would follow an attempt to explain what “I am a son of the Church” means in terms of the hot-button issues.

      But if they ask questions, they are curious. The Church can handle the curious. If they aren’t yet open though, we won’t accomplish much by forcing them to digest Catholic moral doctrines.

      • Rosemarie


        True. That’s another thing Pope Francis seems to be saying. That we have to meet people where they are and move on from there.

      • linda daily

        If you want to learn more about phases of spiritual development, read James Fowler’ s work, Stages of Faith. Insightful and opens windows on our current fixation with things deemed smaller and purer. I have great hope the we are being invited as Church to grow beyond this type of limited faith perspective.

  • LSpinelli

    Hey, speaking of Maria Divine Mercy, her “latest” message is over two weeks behind, so are we to assume she’s bunkered down somewhere, making a new batch up as I type this?

    Quite a few people are still in a lather because of her messages before Francis was elected. The archbishop of Dublin better get cracking and shut this woman down for good. She’s already done enough damage among angry and nervous reactionaries.

  • Steve

    Mark, perhaps one could ask: Why are these groups and people showing excitement about Pope Francis? And for many, the answer is because, for whatever reason, they think he’s going to change the Catholic faith to be more like the secular world.

    People of my ilk see that as an inferior starting point because eventually you’ll have to get around to saying, “Well, no, actually Pope Francis isn’t going to change any doctrines. Much of your excitement is based on bad reporting creating misunderstandings.”

    So perhaps you could lend those people a bit of sympathy? Maybe a little? Or perhaps provide a reasoned explanation of why that is a better situation to start from? The level of mockery you bring to people who disagree with you about this is staggering.

    • chezami

      That’s their problem since, you know, he has not, is not, and will not change Catholic teaching in its essentials. Not gonna happen. So instead of worrying about that, play offense, not defense and use this window of opportunity to actually engage the world instead of wasting it correcting the pope and wringing our hands.

      • Steve

        The Pope hasn’t really said anything wrong. What I’m trying to point out is that the “wrong people” who are excited about the Pope are excited based on a misunderstanding. Myself, and others, don’t see that as an advantage. We advocate the bizarre notion that its better to have less public confusion about the Church and not more.

        So if you’re, say… a sidewalk councilor at a Planned Parenthood, and you have to grapple with people using distorted media tropes about the Pope against you, that’s frustrating. And it’s even more frustrating to come here and see Mark saying, “Oh, well you guys just want a more insular Church. You’re just too stupid and backward to understand evangelization.”

        • I’m not sure I agree with labeling some as the “wrong people” getting excited about the Pope, especially because some of them might end up learning something about the true teachings of the Church, and so inch closer to God. In fact, maybe it is actually better to have more public confusion, because what we had before was a whole lot of ignorance and misinformation held in certainty.

          • Steve

            I’d suggest looking at Mark’s third paragraph, in which you’ll see that I was using his term for the sake of reference. Hence the quotes.

            • My mistake, sorry. Are the distorted media tropes about the Pope any worse, really, than the distorted media tropes about the Church in general that were around before this Pope? In my experience, people have a lot of flat-out wrong ideas about the Church and abortion (for example); having them point to Francis gives me a chance to actually correct these ideas, because for once they are listening.

              • Steve

                When it comes to confusions about the Church… I want less, not more. To shift to another example, I have a lot easier time sharing with a Protestant who wasn’t raised with the old “Catholics worship Mary” nonsense. Misunderstandings are most often huge mental barriers preventing dialogue.

                So if a person has it in his head that “Francis said you shouldn’t be talking about all that”, the conversation tends to go nowhere. That’s frustrating. But I suppose that sentiment makes me some kind of anti-evangelical undermench.

                • orual’s kindred

                  If so much attention ends up focused on those frustrations (no matter how justified they are), then maybe, just maybe, evangelization would be less likely to occur, yes? 🙂

                  • Steve

                    I’m not trying to evangelize you guys. But just in case, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?

                    • orual’s kindred

                      Yes I have! And each day I have to do so all over again in some way or another. It’s not something I’m very good at, either. Isn’t He great, though? 😀

  • For those who worry about the enemies of the faith liking Francis, I think we ‘defenders’ should just pipe down and let the master of catechesis speak:

    “Possibly too you have come on another pretext. It is possible that a man is wishing to pay court to a woman, and came hither on that account. The remark applies in like manner to women also in their turn. A slave also perhaps wishes to please his master, and a friend his friend. I accept this bait for the hook, and welcome you, though you came with an evil purpose, yet as one to be saved by a good hope. Perhaps you knew not whither you were coming, nor in what kind of net you are taken. You have come within the Church’s nets : be taken alive, flee not: for Jesus is angling for you, not in order to kill, but by killing to make alive: for you must die and rise again. For you have heard the Apostle say, Dead indeed unto sin, but living unto righteousness . Die to your sins, and live to righteousness, live from this very day.”

    That of course comes from St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechecical Lectures. He knew a thing or two about spreading the Gospel.

  • Marthe Lépine

    I wish there were numbers to the comments, in that way I could point out more clearly some comments that I find problematic here. Somewhere down this series of comment, someone (again) said something to the effect that (and I am not quoting verbatim here) they object to Pope Francis having said that there are two things among others that are serious problems, the first one was youth unemployment – leading to despair – and the other was the loneliness of the old. Well, once again, someone brings out the argument that no, the main problem is abortion. This in my view confirms Pope Francis’ comment that we do not need to talk about abortion, contraception and gay marriage all the time. The objection that he should not have said that youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old were grave problems brings to mind something I did read a long time ago in another political-catholic blog, where it had been argued that, since Jesus said that the poor will always be with us, we should first work at eradicating abortion, and once that will have been achieved, we can turn our attention to the poor. As if you could put the poor on a shelf until we have time for them. With that attitude, by the time abortion will have been eradicated, the poor that will be found on that shelf may well be those babies saved from abortions, all grown up, and considering once again having abortions because of their poverty. .. Personally I am distressed by that habit that some Catholics seem to have to bring everything back to abortion; this seems to me to have made them easy prey to those politicians who will use pro-life words if it will get them vote, and forget all about pro-life issues until the next election.

    • Rachel

      Its good to know I’m not the only one who’s heard this. I agree with your response. This is what I was trying to say before and I got some nasty comments for it.

    • Stu

      “This in my view confirms Pope Francis’ comment that we do not need to talk about abortion, contraception and gay marriage all the time. ”
      Where is this happening?

    • I see abortion as a direct attack upon the poor. These are not two separate things.

  • defiant12314

    Mark we are merely concerned that the Holy Father’s words were not explicit enough and are being twisted by so called progressives (inside and outside the church) to beat faithful Catholics over the head with.

    • chezami

      So stop playing defense and talking as though the Pope is your enemy and start learning from him and articulating the Faith that he is, in fact, teaching.

    • HornOrSilk

      And are you concerned that Jesus’ words were not explicit enough that he requires the Church to constantly interpret them? Wait…..

      • defiant12314

        its not the same and you know it

      • Uh, yes. That’s the reason we have a Pope to begin with.

  • Sherry

    Without wringing my hands about Pope Francis, indeed, these days I feel rather like an apologist for him to the faithful that I interact with, and without condemning those who feel at the very least, slighted as they go about the hard work of living out a Catholic life in a secularized world, I can understand why people who practice the faith might feel pause at this Pope’s utterances, not because they don’t want Tina Fey or John Stewart or President Obama or whomsoever to come into the Church or know the beauty of our Faith, but because there seems to be in the omissions of what the Pope says, an indictment of those who are on the more conservative side of the Church. It is a hard thing to be seared by the Holy Spirit, and when we are seared, we do one of two things, we dive deeper in, or we pull away. Right now, there are many souls who feel shaken, who feel fearful, and they are wrestling with pulling away or not. I’ve seen it in the criticisms of those who wrestle with the Pope’s words, you can use whichever example you wish, those who are not comforted by the Pope’s words tremble and wonder. Catechism is difficult, living it harder still. Even the disciples, the apostles on the boat struggled with trying to understand and really not getting it, even those who followed most closely fought with what Jesus said, so why would we not be even lesser followers in our attempts to grasp the Real Jesus via His Words, His Body and His Church? To call all who question the Pope’s words Tribalists or Reactionaries or Bedwetters is to deny them also the opportunity to be Evangelized. There are several approaches we can take, but not one of them involves calling any other soul a name for the purposes of showing them their folly. The first, is follow the saints. Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry. Pray constantly. Pray for understanding. Pray for grace. Pray for wisdom. Ask ask ask for the increase in faith to move a molehill.
    If we want to understand what is happening, it is that those of us who seek to life out a holy life, fall prey to the worst of all snares, the snares the devil sets for the righteous. None of us think we are the Pharisees, none of us want to believe that we are saying, “Lord, I thank you that I am not like that other sinful man.” or that we are the older brother who did everything the Father asked, or that we are in danger of having sold everything and given everything up without love, or that we have embraced the idol of our own devotions, that we put our holiness on ourselves as the result of our own actions and will, as opposed to a gift of His grace pouring out with our limited cooperation. We keep thinking we understand this unfathomable mystery, that we can tame Jesus, or at least, keep Him only on our side, when that places a limit on love, a limit on mercy, a measure of less than infinite on God. We shouldn’t want that limited God for anyone, even our worst enemy, which may turn out to be us.

  • Without actually giving any ground to the reactionary movement- there is good reason for their fear.

    I give us about 11 days before a civil war in the United States- the culture war is turning hot. Thanks mainly to idiots on both sides that think you can save the poor by cutting off funding for their food and aborting their children.

    Things are going to get really bad really fast.