Pope Francis is Person of the Year and It Doesn’t Mean a Thing

Time Magazine named Pope Francis their ‘Person of the Year’ for 2013.

This honor, which is usually a signal event in the lives of most of its recipients, was probably more of a bemusement to the Holy Father.

He walks in the shoes of the fisherman.

I have always loved the power of that first call to Peter. It is an incredible story. Here it is, in all its stark simplicity.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. Come, follow me, Jesus said, and I will send you out to fish for people. At once they left their nets and followed him.

Think about this story for a moment. Simon and his brother Andrew are going about their daily work as fishermen. They are casting their nets into the lake. Then this stranger comes up and says, Follow me … and I will send you out to fish for people. 

What would you do?

I’ve dealt with a lot of crazy people in my time in public office. Many of them have pulled me aside to share their delusions. I’ve always handled it as gently as I could. But I never considered dropping everything and following them off to Mars or wherever they thought they were going.

You can tell when someone is delusional. It’s not difficult at all.

But this carpenter’s son was different, and those who, as He said, had the eyes to see, picked up on it immediately. Simon and his brother dropped their nets, left their livelihood, and followed Him.

Why? What did they have the eyes to see?

I think it was more of an intuition and an instinctive response to the presence of God than knowledge and understanding. The Gospels make it clear that all the Apostles, including Peter, (who was called Simon until Jesus changed his name) slowly and often reluctantly came to an understanding of Who Jesus was and what His call meant. They were still quarreling among themselves as to their position in what they thought was going to be an earthly kingdom a few days before the crucifixion.

But the same Jesus Who others humiliated and murdered without fear for themselves or their immortal souls, was, for those who had the eyes to see, a transcendent figure from the first.

The seeds of His crucifixion were sown early in His ministry among those who were offended by His teaching. This was not a simple miracle man. He challenged the jots and tittles of the weighty interpretations of the law that the priests had layered on the people. He laid bare the priests’ pretensions while opening His arms to the displaced and despised.

They accused Him repeatedly — and accurately — of healing on the Sabbath. They “grieved and angered” Jesus with “their hardness of heart.”

Is it better to save a life or end it? he asked them, and they responded by plotting to kill him.

He could have quibbled and shuffled his feet and obfuscated His way out of the danger. He could have watered down the Gospel so that it fit the teachings of these fallen priests.

But He didn’t. Instead, He went right in their faces with his challenge to their mis-use of the law to control and weigh people down. The son of man is lord of the Sabbath He told them. The Sabbath was made for people. People were not made for the Sabbath, He said.

And they killed Him for it.

The crowds loved Him. They followed Him everywhere, even going so far as to knock a hole in the roof of Peter’s house to lower a crippled man for Him to heal. Less than a week before they yelled “Crucify Him!” the crowds shouted Hosanna! and laid palm branches in the road in front of Him.

Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ. When he — or anyone — speaks out for the Gospels, he will be dealt with in a manner similar to what Jesus Himself experienced from human hands.

Is the servant greater than the master? Jesus asked his disciples. If they persecute me, they will persecute you. 

Today, as 2,000 years ago, high profile followers of Christ are subjected to the same push-pull of adulation that is placed on them instead of Him as well as the attacks and smears that are also placed on them instead of Him. In truth, both the love and the hate are focused on Jesus.

These high-profile followers of Christ are just the temporal targets through which people express their feelings about Jesus and their understanding of the Gospels. Pope Francis, as the Vicar of Christ, get this treatment, raised to powers of ten.

On the one hand, he is named Person of the Year. On the other hand, he is attacked as a heretic and compared — with absolutely no basis in fact — with the most corrupt popes of history.

Why? Because he says that Jesus came to seek the lost, that we must not walk past Lazarus, that the prostitutes and drug dealers and homosexuals will enter the Kingdom of Heaven before the pharisees of our time.

He is accused of being a sell-out because known sinners are attracted to him. He is called outrageous names because he says blessed are the poor.

This honor of being named Person of the Year will almost certainly further inflame those who are so bitterly angry with him. After all, the honor — in all its temporal nothingness — comes from public sinners.

Who is Pope Francis to tell sinners that Jesus loves them? Who does he think he is, insisting that Christ the Lord meant what He said?

Maybe, he thinks he’s the Pope. Perhaps the Holy Spirit had a thing or two to do with his election. It’s possible that he was put in this position because what he’s telling us is what we need to hear.

I wrote a post declaring my loyalty to this good man.

I ended up deleting a number of disturbing comments on this post. The comments came from people who wanted to rage at  the Holy Father — and at me, for standing with him.

They came from Catholics whose Catholicism has devolved down to a Gospel according to them as explicated by some false internet pope they are slavishly following. They repeatedly cited this or that cult-leader of a fallen priest or political guru to explain why the Pope is a heretic, a fool, or worse.

They chided me for following the Pope instead of their fallen priest or political guru. They explained to me why there is no responsibility for Catholics to follow the teachings of the Holy Father when it conflicts with the teachings of these internet tin gods.

Each of these rageful, bitter people appeared to be convinced — absolutely, foaming at the mouth I’d like to kill you for disagreeing with me convinced — that the teachings of their fallen priest/political guru trumped that of the Pope. They were, in a word, demented. They were, in a phrase, in the grip of a virulent form of self-deluding, self-righteous evil.

This is all First Century stuff. It is the same old story, re-told with living actors who don’t seem to know they are playing a part. I know that the chock-full-o-nuts attacks on the Holy Father for being named Man of the Year will arrive soon. I’ve read enough attacks claiming that the Pope is a heretic because public sinners are attracted to what he’s saying to know they’re coming.

For those of you who are interested, here’s my take on the Person of the Year deal: It doesn’t mean a thing.

Those same people who are so in love with Pope Francis today can turn like they were on ice and begin attacking him tomorrow.

What does matter — and is of eternal consequence — is whether or not those who hear his message will be convicted by it to turn to Jesus. The Pope is in the business of saving souls, not gathering honors.

He’s the Pope. He stands in the shoes of the fisherman. Which makes him a fisher of people.

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This is a Catholic Blog. I am a Catholic Woman.

They should be ashamed. 

I watch The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson at some point during Holy Week each year. The movie, whatever the much-publicized weaknesses of its producer, is deeply meaningful to me.

This year I ended up watching it late, late Good Friday and early, early Holy Saturday, after my family had gone to bed. Earlier in the day I had shared a meal with one of my dearest friends. This lady is a cradle Catholic who doesn’t analyze the Church, she just believes it. She also uses her computer for work and turns it off. She’s not an internet junkie. Since we are blessed to live in a diocese where the bishops have always allowed women’s feet to be washed along with men on Holy Thursday, she had never encountered the discussions about this that float around the internet.

During our conversation, I told her about the happenings on Public Catholic, including the debate about washing women’s feet on Holy Thursday. When I mentioned that some people don’t think that women’s feet should be washed, she stopped and stared for a moment, then said, “Reaalllllyyyyy?”

It was the first time in all the years I’ve known her that I’ve ever seen this woman, who once thought about becoming a nun, angry over her faith. Why? Because she understood instantly that this attitude put her, as a woman, outside the circle of grace that the servant priesthood and the eucharist are meant to create for all humanity.

I explained it as best I could and moved on to other topics.

Later that night, as I was watching Jesus, standing before the Sanhedrin, something changed in me. Specifically, it was that moment in the film where He is condemned to death and the mob begins spitting on Him, hitting him and pummeling Him. He is surrounded, almost lost in the mob, fists coming at him from every direction. It was, as He said earlier that same evening, “Satan’s hour.”

I wasn’t thinking about my conversation with my friend. I wasn’t thinking about the outrageous attacks on the Holy Father because he had the temerity, by his actions, to include women in the whole of the humanity the Church serves. It was as if all the pieces clicked together by themselves with an almost audible snap.

This blog is a Catholic blog. I am a Catholic woman. 

If you want to put the “teachings” of self-annointed internet magisteriums ahead of the legitimate authority of the bishops and the pope to determine the order of the mass and the liturgy, I can not stop you. But I will not publish you. This behavior is harming my Church, and I will not open my house to anything that furthers it. 

You do not have to love the Holy Father to comment on Public Catholic. But you do have to refrain from disrespecting him, including posting links to those who are trying to make themselves his teachers in the rubrics of the mass.

I am not expert on this, but I’ve read that the girm that these people claim cancels out the teaching authority of the pope and bishops (not to mention the Gospels) was written around 50 short years ago in the 1960s. If I understand it correctly, the bishops have clear authority to modify certain things (including this one) in the girm, as part of their pastoral calling. I’ve read that Cardinal O’Malley of Boston specifically queried the Vatican about this issue after he was appointed to the Archdiocese of Boston and that this was the answer. He subsequently allowed women’s feet to be washed on Holy Thursday.

Presumably, other bishops, who had years more experience in this office than the Cardinal did at this time, already knew this. I know that (then) Bishop Bevilacqua asked the USCCB to clarify this issue as long ago as 1987, and got the same answer as Cardinal O’Malley received from the Vatican later.

I would guess that if I’m aware of this, the self-annointed internet magisteriums of which I speak are also aware of it. Since they’re making what is probably a very good living based on their supposedly superior knowledge of what they imply is the absolute and infallible dogma of the girm, they certainly should.

This fixation on one word and the obvious misogyny that fuels it are both serious problems for the people who are encouraging it. I mean they are serious spiritual problems for them. They are leading people away from obedience to their bishops and the pope in the name of the girm. They are appealing to the dark temptations of self-righteousness and clannish cliquishness that destroy community, limit faith and — worst of all — deny the core message of the Gospels.

I’ve been warned that by criticizing these people I am making myself the target of on-line attacks and defamation. If that doesn’t tell you that they are not of the Lord, then what does? 

They should be ashamed of themselves.

Here is an excerpt from a Washington Post article describing the picayune grievances against the Holy Father by these people. Read it and weep.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has won over many hearts and minds with his simple style and focus on serving the world’s poorest, but he has devastated traditionalist Catholics who adored his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for restoring much of the traditional pomp to the papacy.

Francis’ decision to disregard church law and wash the feet of two girls — a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic — during a Holy Thursday ritual has become something of the final straw, evidence that Francis has little or no interest in one of the key priorities of Benedict’s papacy: reviving the pre-Vatican II traditions of the Catholic Church. (More here.)

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I Forgive You. Now Don’t Do It Again.

My husband and I go to the Vigil Mass at our parish. Our pastor delivered a fine homily yesterday. It was based on the Gospel story of the woman taken in adultery.

He made a point that I’ve often thought myself, that the woman in this story was set up. You catch someone in “the very act” of adultery by being there. This outrage of the scribes and pharisees, which included demands that a woman be stoned to death, was fake outrage. 

The pharisees were so zealous to entrap Our Lord that they were willing to entrap and murder this poor woman along the way. I’ve always thought that the man with whom she had been caught in “the very act” of adultery was probably standing there with them, stones in his hand, ready to throw.

Such is the “mercy” of legal beagle clerics who care more for the trappings of religion than they do for the call to holiness that applies to every single person on this planet. They are so intent on following “the rules,” so focused on, as Jesus said, “cleaning the outside of the cup” that they leave the inside, which is their own souls, “filthy — full of greed and self-indulgence.”

I know because I’ve done it that human beings are capable of convincing themselves of anything. We can convince ourselves that we are holy. We can convince ourselves that our “personal morality” is, in fact, actual morality. We can make ourselves believe that our obsessions and fixations on the appearance of things truly are more important than their substance. We can, as these teachers of religious law did, forget our own sins and focus on the sins of others to the point of stoning them to death.

Today’s Gospel story has often been used against Christians by people who do not believe in Jesus and who do not follow Him. They confuse its meaning to say that we should go along with them in claiming that their sins are not sins and that, in fact, there is no sin. They want to twist the story to mean that their “personal morality” is, in fact, actual morality.

I don’t think that is what Jesus meant when He said, “Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” The scriptures record the tantalizing but unexplained fact that Jesus knelt and wrote in the dust while He was speaking.

What was He writing? Was He perhaps writing the name of the man who had been with the woman when she was taken “in the very act?” Perhaps this man was the one making the demand that she be stoned. We don’t know. All we do know is that something happened that doesn’t often happen and these men became convicted of their own sins instead of the woman’s.

They dropped their stones and walked away.

This was not mercy on Our Lord’s part. It was the act that precedes mercy, which is to convict of us our own sins. We can not receive mercy for sins that we do not admit. We can not be forgiven without an understanding on our part that we need forgiveness.

The pitiful scribes and pharisees did not stay around to get the mercy they needed. They did not say, as Peter did, “have mercy on me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” They dropped their stones and went away to plot other evils for other days. They were temporarily foiled in their evil, not converted to the light.

But the woman, the sinful, terrified woman whose death would have been nothing more than a means to an end for these sin-sick priests, what became of her? Again, we don’t know for sure. Was she the Mary Magdalene who stood at the foot of the cross and who was the first one to see the risen Christ? Many people think so. Was she the woman who kissed Jesus’ feet and washed them with her tears while he was at dinner with a Pharisee? Maybe.

All we know for sure is what Jesus said to her. I do not condemn you, he said. Now go, and sin no more.

He didn’t tell her that what she’d been doing, how she’d been living, was right. He didn’t tell her that she was without sin. He told her, “sin no more.”

That is God’s mercy. It is the mercy that does not lie to us by letting us slide past the reality of our sins. But it is a mercy that also doesn’t equate us with our sins. We are more than the evil we do. We are the errant children of the living God Who will always forgive us when we go to Him in humility and remorse for what we have done, but who will never do us the great disservice of telling us that what we’ve done is ok.

God tells us, like I told my own children, “Don’t do it again.” Don’t run in the house and break the lamp. Don’t hit your brother with a stick. Don’t commit adultery, lie, cheat, steal, rape or kill. Don’t do it again.

That is the mercy of God. It  is not the namby-pamby self-referencing whatever-is-popular-is-not-a-sin mercy our culture teaches us to demand of Him.

To obtain God’s mercy, we have to do more than put down our stones and go away to plot more evil. We have to want to change. Because, when it comes to our sins, He will always tell us, “I forgive you. Now don’t do it again.”

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