A reader has a long letter that I empathize with

She writes:

As a regular Patheos Catholic channel peruser, it is a pleasure to read your work. I appreciate your wit, your perceptive thinking, and most of all, your soft heart, open to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
I haven’t been able to stop feeling troubled about Francis press since he arrived and before that Benedict as well. This morning, doing breakfast dishes, I managed to piece together the crux of what is eating at me. I wanted to share my thinking with someone, and well, you came to mind as someone who might understand them.
Just to allow that, “oh, ok, so that’s what the problem is,” to get out on the table first up, I note that while I have been a happy one for some time now, I was not born a Catholic. I did not find Jesus in the Catholic Church. In fact, we knew each other quite well long before I arrived. I grew up being handed lots of cheery little novels and stories about Catholics who finally found Jesus and then had to smile when I joined you and started getting handed the same stories, similarly worded, with a different conclusion. I love the Catholic church. I am home in her most wonderful arms – but if it makes a difference to the value of my argument, I walked into them, I wasn’t born there.
So about the Popes . . . you know what is eating me? Of course I grew up with warnings about the Pope worshipers etc. I have heard lots of things since to clarify the still somewhat greyish sounding doctrine that all the smart people can’t agree on about exactly what infallibility means and how and when it applies, but neither of these camps are what has me troubled. To take a page from Elizabeth Scalia’s book, when it comes to Benedict, Francis, (dare I say JP II) what troubles me is the notion of strange gods. Do I like personally respect, admire and like these three popes? As a matter of fact, I do. Do I see them as spiritual fathers of extremely significant stature due to their personal holiness and love of God? I do, actually. But the constant flow of Catholic media on the subject – even on my beloved Patheos? Well, it’s making me crazy.
Warning* Former Protestant who still does not hate Protestants is about to issue an opinion about Catholics: Sorry, but Catholics are really weird about their Popes. People that are nervous about Francis aren’t just nervous or uncomfortable, they’re beside themselves. They are personally wounded and affronted, shocked, dazed and confused. People that feel inspired or convicted aren’t just smiling, they’re gushing perpetually, weeping in ecstasy, trying to figure out if the way the Pope tilts his head is something they should be doing. I don’t get this.
As far as I know, all of the above mentioned Popes went to confession. While there, I expect that they confessed sin. By recent, repeated admission, Pope Francis claims to be a sinner. Confession is part of the Mass which all of these Popes celebrated on a daily basis – confession in which they must have also continually confessed to being sinners – making them either honest sinners or lying ones. I think everyone would agree with this on paper, but a lot of people seem not to have really thought through the ramifications of this fundamental reality.
As I have never met any of the Popes, I can only speak for myself, everyone I have ever known, and the general tenor of all Catholic teaching and Scriptural evidence when I say that sin is ugly. Not just some sin, but all sin. It is ugly and not of God and we are down here on earth trying to grow in holiness but while we are here, we never fully get there – even if we get elected Pope. This means that very good and holy men of God, chosen and anointed by the Holy Spirit, nevertheless are not perfect. They sin. Chances are that they sin “in thought, word, and deed.”
Perhaps the Catholic thing hasn’t gotten me enough yet. Maybe I have some sort of Protestant disability that keeps me from fully crossing over, but I’m ok with the Pope being a sinner. I accept and celebrate the authority of the Church. I listen and pray over the Pope’s instructions and words because I want to hear what the Holy Spirit might say through him. But at the end of the day, I assume that sometimes he won’t be right. I assume there are times when he is selfish, hasty, or any other manner of things. I even assume that he might have a blind spot, as I assume did his predecessor and the one before that. I assume that God in his wisdom matches up the gifts and the blind spots so that overall, the Church gets what it needs, but I assume that Jesus is the only one who was actually God and was therefore actually the only one who could consistently show us 100% of the time who God was and what He was thinking. Popes are great. We have been so blessed. But how could a man suddenly do this just because we give him a nice little white hat? Or red shoes? (I am just realizing that maybe that is why people were so upset about the shoes. Maybe real born and bred Catholics know something I don’t about the magic Jesus powder being in the red shoes? This last thought may explain everything and render my concerns mute. I will think about that.)
Ok, that’s all. But honestly, it is killing me. I love reading Patheos but I am reading less and less just because I am sick of people talking non-stop about Pope Francis and every word that falls from his mouth and whether or not the way he is breathing is in the best interests of the church. AHHHHH. Don’t people have their own lives to live? The ones where they are called to love the people around them and love God with all their heart. The commandment to love God, says we are supposed to love him with all our heart, soul, and mind. How can we have any minds left if we have to use such a large percentage of them analyzing the Pope all day. Maybe the church should impose a limit? Unless you are directly paid by his organization, no more than 3% of the brain devoted to Pope following, whether this is worship/disgust/agreement/disagreement? Even if we bumped it to 10% (harsh considering the living humans all around us, our own conscience and all, but still consider the concession and keep it at 10%) it would still leave an awful lot else for Catholic writers/evangelizers etc. to think and talk about.
And what a relief it would be to this half breed in Ontario.
God bless you if you made it to the end of my thoughts and God bless you in your writing. My favourite piece of all time was the one about your vacation with the large group of young people. Thanks for your life of faith and for your encouragement and care for your readers.

American Protestant born, Catholic Canadian (that explains it, right?)

I can empathize with a lot of this. Catholic yakkery tends to spend a lot of time talking about the pope because he is the biggest voice in the Church and his job is, after all, to teach. So when he teaches things that upset people, all the rhetorical strategies emerge in order to deny, minimize, ridicule and downplay what he says and all the corresponding energy gets devoted to saying, “Listen to the Pope!” Like you, I see the pope as a father, not merely theologically, but in a personal way: I just flat love the guy, as I’ve loved his predecessors. So I have a double stake in that I think a good man should be honored for being a good man, and I think that the Shepherd should be listened to since he teaches in the name of Jesus Christ.

That said, however, I think that you are probably healthy to want to avoid the wrangling about ecclesial politics, for the very good reason that the pope is not our Savior: Jesus is. The irony is that this is what the pope himself is saying. He is like the guy pointing to the food and we are like the dogs sniffing his finger. We waste an enormous amount of time being distracted from Jesus Christ and we seem to find almost any excuse to do so. Still and all, “Was Francis crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Benedict?” That’s not to say we shouldn’t use the enormous resources given us by our popes. It’s just that, as with the Mass, the point is to look *along* these resources at God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We should not waste too much time looking *at*–and no time at all fighting, or fighting about–these resources. We don’t worship the Mass and we don’t worship the Pope. We worship God.

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