The Problem with Pope Francis…

As a student at fundamentalist Bob Jones University I can remember the preachers inveighing against what they called “the social gospel”. This was a watered down version of Christianity which avoided talk of sin and salvation, repentance and redemption. The cross and resurrection were studiously avoided to portray a compassionate Jesus who lived among the poor and whose chief ministry was healing the sick, preaching against the rich, criticizing the religious hypocrites. The “social gospellers” were all “liberals” who were forsaking the true message of the gospel in favor of soup kitchen Christianity. They were all for giving people bread, but not the bread of heaven. They were all for helping the poor have a better life, but not concerned about eternal life.

The problem with those who promote the social gospel is not that they feed the poor, are activists for justice and are work for healing and reconciliation, but that they put these things before the primary message of the gospel which is the old, old story of a fallen humanity in need of forgiveness and a loving God who sends his own Son into enemy territory to seek and to save that which was lost. Those who follow a social gospel reduce the life and work of Jesus Christ to that of an inspired healer–a social worker and a pacifist activist. Usually their activism and concern for the poor is linked with a political ideology, a desire to make the world a better place and the heresy of universalism i.e. “everybody will be saved by God’s mercy and love so we don’t have to preach repentance and salvation of souls or such a thing as heaven and hell.

The social gospel is a heresy, and like every heresy, it is not completely wrong. It is only half right. We are supposed to feed the hungry, house the homeless, heal the sick and work for justice and peace, but this is the fruit of our faith in Christ. It is the result of our redemption, not the primary point of our faith. The first objective is the salvation of our souls, and from this faith in Christ we are transformed into his likeness, and as we are transformed into his likeness we begin to do his work in the world. If we jump straight to the good works, then we are guilty of the old heresy of Pelagianism: trying to be good enough under our own steam.

The reason I say this is a problem for the new pope is not  because I think he teaches the social gospel, but because it will be perceived and promoted that he does. I am convinced (despite the worries of some of my friends) that Pope Francis is God’s man for the church today. I’m convinced that he is fully orthodox, and that he will not compromise the Catholic faith at all, but instead will build up Christ’s church and be a wonderful global evangelist.

What concerns me is that the man and his message will be hi jacked Read More


  • Andy

    Father- I think that every pope has his message hijacked and “remade” by the society we live in. the media, the “blogosphere”, the local coffee shop all here and respond to what they want to hear. That is the problem for every leader – I am more afraid that he will be ignored or seen as a revolutionary -a socialist/marxist and then shunted off to the side.

  • mmatthew

    Or Father you could be completely wrong and he is the False Prophet.
    just kidding.
    He does worry me because he is so easily being mis-interpreted by everybody! The Conservatives are beginning to wonder if he is a heretic, the liberals think he is ‘their man’ the secularists are proclaiming a Catholic Church that has finally crumbled under the weight of its own hypocrisy. Everyone else is just confused and don’t know what in blazes is going on……….pun intended.
    Of course I don’t believe he is a heretic but he does seem to allow his mouth to get ahead of his brain. It may sound good in his mind but when he says it out loud it’s not the same.
    Hopefully he will come to understand this and go forth more cautiously………or not.

    • Howard

      All Catholics are required to believe, on pain of heresy, during each Pope’s reign that he is the wisest and holiest person on Earth and that he will inevitably be given the title “the Great” and proclaimed a Doctor of the Universal Church. Or so you would think, based on many Catholic blogs. Unfortunately that is nonsense. We have to love the Popes, of course, and respect their authority and obey it, etc., but the truth is that some Popes will probably never be canonized, some are holier and some less holy, and some are wiser and some less wise; and all of them have flaws, certainly including the Apostle Peter himself. This is yet another of those things about which we must be “wise as serpents and simple as doves.”

    • Florin S.

      P. Francis’ mouth is not getting ahead of his brain…how arrogant of you to say this. Even Jesus Himself would be misinterpreted by the media and others who want to distort the message of Christ and His church…

      • Tom Lewis

        How blind of you to say that his mouth is not getting ahead of his brain. Did you just wake up this morning and realize that this bumbling pope is now pope. Do you know that pope Francis has been censored time and again, and that apologist have to follow him everywhere because he has many times said things that are not of the Catholic Faith. Please open your eyes, and quit making bumbling statements before you call someone “arrogant” Check your facts, first.

        • James Kergosien

          Could you please elaborate on the instances where he has said things that are “not of the Catholic faith”? If we are thinking of the same incidents, I believe it is stated in our Catechism that homosexuality itself is not a sin nor a barrier to full communion with the Church (which I interpret to mean the relevant sacraments, including Holy Orders), and it is also fairly clearly established that not being a Christian is not an automatic ticket to hell. But maybe I’m mistaken on these points.

      • Marie

        I love beach balls and am so happy that one was finally placed on the High Altar by guess who. And those Trads, they must be stopped. Their careful treatment of the High Altar is just an abuse to the Faith and so devisive. Thank goodness our Pontiff has finally shown them all how to treat the Altar of God. Maybe now, at last, we can start having beach balls placed on all the Altars in our local Parishes. I say, it’s about time.

    • James Kergosien

      How so? To my knowledge he has only stated explicitly what previous Popes have buried in encyclicals. It isn’t like Christ had carefully-prepared speeches; the man threw a tantrum on the grounds of the Temple! Say what you will about off-the-cuff speeches, but how many Catholics do you think are unaware that there is nothing inherently sinful about a homosexual orientation, or that there is no teaching specifying that all atheists invariably go to hell? The things he is saying are right out of the Catechism, but they have never truly been expressed in plain-and-clear language by someone in a high office. He is being mis-heard, yes, but it is impossible to speak clearly on these issues without someone warping the message deliberately. That is not a valid reason to keep silent by any means.

      • Tom Lewis

        Ok if you are aware of the warping, wouldn’t you think that the pope should be aware of the warping. But then your an apologist, now aren’t you!

        • James Kergosien

          I am curious what you mean by “apologist”. However, whether you are
          suggesting that I am a theologian specializing in defense of the faith,
          or a sycophant who can see no wrong in Francis, I must confess to being
          neither. I am merely an engineering student with an admitted fondness
          for the man and his actions, who believes that he is doing what a Pope
          should be expected to do. The fact is, Satan is a liar and so we can
          expect most things said by secular types about the Church to be lies.
          Benedict had a different style of rule, and the lies told about him were
          that he was cold, cruel, bureaucratic, essentially a Pharisee. Should
          the existence of those distortions have made him change his
          administration style? I should hope not. In similar fashion, it seems a
          bit silly to suggest that Francis should not say or do things that could
          be misconstrued in a negative light despite his intentions. As far as I
          can tell, everything he has said is perfectly in line with what I know
          of the Catechism, and judging by the fruits of his ministry, he is a
          holy man. I’m satisfied with that, and I would hope that most Catholics
          would be.

      • CatherineA

        Jesus most certainly did not “throw a tantrum.” To throw a tantrum is to lose self-control. Jesus never lost self-control. He controlled his anger; He did not allow His anger to control Him.

  • Age_of_Reason

    This is one of the most cogent articles I have read on the cultural perceptions of Pope Francis. The reality is much different. Eventually, our culture will turn on him for being orthodox, but blame someone else (like the curia) and act like he is a victim because of his concern for the poor.

  • Glenna Bradshaw

    If your criterion is applied, Jesus’ message has also been “hijacked” by anyone with a bias for the last 2000 yrs. You contradict yourself by saying you believe the Holy Spirit is working through this Pope BUT…
    He is teaching the complete Gospel by word& deed. If his listeners don’t have ears to hear, that’s not his fault

    • Gordis85

      Was it not St. Paul who wrote, “the time is coming when people will hear what they want to hear?” He goes on to say more but I believe we live this one truth now and have been for a while. While Pope Benedict reigned, few listened but with Pope Francis many are listening and twisting what he says to suit their own agendas…this truth applies to both sides of the aisle in the Church.

      I too agree that Papa Francis is teaching the complete Gospel by word and deed.

      • wilhelmina

        Pope Francis is the right pope ,for the times we live in.Heaven will guide him.

        • Gordis85

          I agree with you there! With his love and devotion to our Lady, she will be guiding her little son in truth and in spirit. I am happy for that and know he is well protected as he also places the Church time and time again at her feet.

          • OraEtLabora

            Love and devotion to our Lady? Can you give concrete examples? I read a quote he made to a group from S. America visiting the Vatican. He spoke about “bouquets of rosaries” prayed for him in mocking terms to his audience saying “these people actually do this.”. Calling it as I see it, doesn’t sound like much love for Our Lady there.

    • jasonbmiller

      Jesus’ message HAS been hijacked by anyone with a bias for the last 2000 years – Arionism, individualism, prosperity gospel proponents, cults, liberation theology, gnosticism, protestantism, jansenism, etc. Anyone with an agenda has and can misuse the True Gospel. Father L is not contradicting himself at all – the Holy Spirit is indeed working through the Holy Father, BUT folks with an agenda ignore the Holy Spirit and instead subscribe the spirit of the world. This is the reality of the world we live in and will be so until the Lord returns. I think what Father L is saying in the article is the same as you – the Holy Father is baring witness to the Gospel, but certain people are not only making the choice NOT to hear it, but to manipulate it. Some do this consciously, some do this because they have a worldly filter on their senses.

  • Mary Poppins

    No matter what the Pope says there will always be those who will pick and chose at random the parts they want to hear and use it for their own purposes. Not unlike the Bible.

    The thoughts that stand out for me when Pope Francis speaks:


    Our job…pray that all of us who listen to the Pope’s teachings will be enlighten by God..

    • OlderWoman

      You should ask forgiveness for worshiping idols.

      • Mary Poppins

        LOL thanks for your comment…please pray for all whom you consider idol worshippers.

  • Joe

    I remember hearing a joke attributed to Pope Benedict. A tribe of aboriginals wrote to the Vatican to thank them for the hospitals, schools and so on, but wanted to let the Vatican know that they were becoming Methodist because they felt they needed a religion. Lol!!

    • Greg

      IF that joke was originally told by a Catholic, then it’s appropriately self-defacing. But the reality of the joke would be inversed.

  • Tim Reid

    What disturbs me is that when people who don’t share your conservative view of the Church show any admiration for or support for Pope Francis, you immediately take the “prophet of doom” position. If liberals like Pope Francis it’s for all the wrong reasons and you assume that people who love when he talks about the poor that they do not love or appreciate or believe in the Eucharist or any of our other Sacred Traditions. I consider myself a liberal. I don’t believe receiving communion in the hand is sinful. I prefer guitar played well at mass, but am not opposed to organ music. I think that vocal and passionate participation at mass is more a good than a bad thing. I tend to be wary of Catholics who preach any kind of “prosperity gospel” and who assume that the poor are not doing enough to help themselves. I believe that there is more than 1 way to be reverent in Church.
    People who share your opinion are a part of the Body of Christ just as much as people like me are a part of the Body of Christ. It no more makes you or I a better or worse Catholic. I teach the history of the Church and besides Christ and the Holy Spirit….. the other constant is CHANGE.
    Francis is being a pastor and I am very pleased so far!
    PEACE be on you, Father, as you deal with your anxiety over our Holy Father.

    • Maggie Goff

      Did you read the whole article?

      • Tim Reid

        Yes and I feel sorry that Father doesn’t like how “some” of the world is loving Francis.

    • josmart

      I fail to see where Father has shown anxiety towards out Holy Father. He certainly is concerned with how he is being portrayed which in turn, how the Church is seemingly redefined through the manipulation and omission of the Pope’s words.

      • Tim Reid

        It’s still anxiety about the Pope. I don’t like the attitude of “Oh no, those pagan liberals like our Pope. It must be for the wrong reasons.”

        • Howard

          Did it ever occur to you that the pagan liberals actually explain rather clearly what they like and think they see in the Pope? Speculation is not really necessary.

        • josmart

          If you don’t like that attitude, you must love Father’s article then since he exhibits nothing in which you stated. It is not about who likes the Pope or how much, it is about those in the influential media misinterpreting the Pope’s words, misrepresenting his actions and misappropriating his faith.

          These are valid concern and not wrought out of negative anxiety.

    • frdlongenecker

      Did you read the article? I didn’t express any anxiety over the Holy Father.

      • Tim Reid

        Your post is entitled “The problem with Pope Francis”. However you say it, you’re upset that people who don’t think like you like what Francis is doing and saying.

    • dlapointe34

      Tim, just curious what you meant by “the other constant is CHANGE.” What change are you referring to? As you know, revealed Truth as held by the Church in the full Deposit of Faith, and protected by the Holy Spirit, does not change. Objective truth cannot change since it is from God.

      • Tim Reid

        I didn’t say that our core dogma changes, but today’s Church is not the Church of Charlemagne. I am glad it’s not and I’m glad we are a people open to the Holy Spirit. If Peter just kept everything the same, we Gentiles would not have become part of the Church.

        • Howard

          You seem to be compounding matters of taste (such as guitars vs. pipe organs to accompany the Mass), changeable issues of discipline (for example, the restriction of the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday to the feet of men, a rule that does not bind the Pope but does bind all other priests and bishops until the Pope changes it), and issues of doctrine (like allowing Gentiles to convert directly to Christianity without first converting to Judaism). As for matters of taste, the Church is a VERY big place and does not unduly restrict artistic expression in the service of God. Regarding disciplinary issues, you and Fr. Longenecker and I may all differ somewhat on what we think is most prudent and most effective, and we can all make our respective points, but we should obey Church laws even if we think they should be changed. Doctrines, on the other hand, need to develop organically over time; you can no more make doctrine develop than you can force a tree to grow.

          • Tim Reid

            I don’t make doctrine develop. The Holy Spirit does and we need to be willing listen for when it is inspiring the Church to move ahead to a deeper understanding of God’s plan. I wouldn’t be so worried about Francis because (as you know) there are plenty of people in the Church warning against just doing something because it’s popular. But doing something because the Spirit is moving us to do it is ALL GOOD and not something to be all doom and gloom about.

  • William

    Are we Christians because we share and care or do we share and care because we are Christians. Careful how you answer — atheists can share and care!

    • James Kergosien

      Certainly, and if atheists are capable of astonishing acts of charity (which I know them to be), then how much more are we called to?

  • Florin S.

    Aug. 2nd…Pope Francis often says that the Church is not an NGO…not a social organization and when he speaks about the mandate to go out among the poor and disenfranchised, he emphasizes that we must do this in order to bring Christ to them…but as Fr. Longenecker says, the media will not emphasize this.

  • jeff

    You are overly worried. This is the Pope in the third secret of Fatima, and everything about this holy man is prophetic, and guided by Jesus and his mother, Our Lady of Fatima.

    • Howard

      “… everything about this holy man is prophetic, and guided by Jesus and his mother, Our Lady of Fatima.” So unlike other Popes, he doesn’t ever need to go to Confession? Sorry, but you’re confusing the Vicar with the King.

    • JCBlogger

      Prophecy is interesting, especially from Fatima. Another one I find interesting is from Saint Francis “.The devils will
      have unusual power, the immaculate purity of our Order, and of others,
      will be so much obscured that there will be very few Christians who
      will obey the true Sovereign Pontiff and the Roman Church with loyal
      hearts and perfect charity. At the time of this tribulation a man,
      not canonically elected, will be raised to the Pontificate, who, by
      his cunning, will endeavour to draw many into error and death.” Very interesting prophecies and of course they can come true or not.

  • Monica

    Yes, he will be (and has been) misinterpreted. So have all truth speakers. So was Christ, whose vicar he is. “Who do you say that I am?” – after all, people were even then trying to squash Christ into their own box, instead of seeing Who He is. And followers who speak His truth will get the same.

    Don’t stop speaking the truth because of how others might distort it.

    • Tom Lewis

      But make sure you speak the “Truth” so it has less chance of being distorted!

  • CT Catholic Corner

    Anytime a Catholic clergy SEEMS to focus more on social issues (whatever they may be) than on the Gospel Message and saving souls, I am deeply worried. The Church was created NOT to end poverty, but to help save souls for Christ through preaching the Gospel and the Sacraments. That should ALWAYS be first.

    • Howard

      Well, yes. And maintaining control of the steering wheel comes first in driving a car. If I remind a driver to turn on his headlights, though, I am not telling him to let go of the wheel and attend to the lights. I would be surprised — and alarmed — if he didn’t know that. If Catholics were properly catechized, something we both know is all too rarely true, it would not be necessary for the Pope to tell them they need a continuous life of prayer and the Sacraments, or even that they need to help the poor, for that matter.

      • Tom Lewis

        Excellent point, and to the point!

      • James Kergosien

        I get the feeling that if Catholics as a whole were properly catechized, the Pope would have a much easier job than he does today.

        • Howard

          Not only that, but we would be able to get to more advanced subjects! As it is, at least 90% of what Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have had to say has consisted of things we should have been taught before we were confirmed.

    • josmart

      Amen. One man’s material poverty is another man’s sacrifice. However, spiritual poverty is never to be sacrificed.

    • James Kergosien

      This is true. But remember, Christ’s message to the young scholar who inquired about what was necessary for salvation, other than holding to the law: “Go, sell all you have and give the money to the poor”. Frankly, any priest who DOESN’T have a strong focus on this aspect of the Gospel worries me. No, it’s not the whole message, but it is an indispensible part that is often overlooked, and Francis is actively trying to correct that.

    • catholic

      Right on! Pope Francis has approved the Theology of Liberation!

  • rwarnell

    In defense (sort of) of Henry VIII, he simply hijacked the power over the Church in England from another bunch who had hijacked power over the Church in the West centuries before. Had it not been for the Papacy’s strategic alliances with Spain, the royal divorce would have rolled without a hitch. None of it has a good smell, and the corrosive effects are still a ball and chain on the faith.

    That, however, is NOT my point.

    Too many Catholics believe the part about the Cross is something Jesus did “way back then”, and that all they have to do is give some kind of intellectual assent to the proposition, and jump through some devotional hoops involving personal piety and “bingo”, they’re on their way in the escape escalator from the world.

    I’m almost 71 years old, and didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. I have come to realize Jesus in launching the new creation does, in fact, expect his followers to live out the pattern of his life, death, and resurrection in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. The cross is part and parcel of that process. It’s not for our personal edification but rather for the life of a hurting world. It involves living the Eucharist, becoming in ourselves individually and corporately the “Real Presence”, God broken and poured out, not just something that happens to the bread and wine on Sunday morning.

    • Rosemary58

      I agree with your second proposal. many of us get stuck in the intellectual assent and personal religious devotions while keeping our dainty selves out of the fray of the hungry, messy mass of humanity. Popes Benedict and Francis both warn us to not turn inward, and it is something I struggle with until I remember that my mom told me that there is no such thing as personal salvation.

      Regarding Henry VIII, I am not so sure that the Church would sacrifice the Catholics in England only for the sake of an alliance with Spain. That would be truly evil. The King was a narcissist who cast his greedy eyes not only upon women but also upon the Church’s vast real estate holdings that were greater even than his. He took the opportunity to make a land grab and then parcel it out to his friends to consolidate his power. Of course, he also grabbed the estates of wealthy Catholics who refused to defect, so it was doubly good grabbing!! (Back in 1975 I met the remnants of a Catholic family that fled England in the 16th century to live in Italy, leaving their estate behind, and all for Christ.)
      He was a glutton in ever sense of the word, and yet, before Satan go ahold of him, he wrote some glorious devotional poetry.

      Perhaps those whose land was grabbed (Church and private citizens alike) by Henry should seek to have it returned, much like those who received reparation from the formerly Nazi German Government and from formerly Communist countries.
      “Excuse us, Your Majesty, but may we now have our land back?”!

      • rwarnell

        Well, Henry was no prize, for sure. I think however, you have a far rosier view of the Papacy and ecclesiastical machinery of that period than either I or the history books do.

        While we’re contemplating giving back land stolen from the original owners in the name of religion, let’s not forget the Jews in Spain in the 15th and 16th Centuries or the land taken from the Indians here in the USA in the name of White Christians.

        There is an ugly side to all of this, and like I said it continues to be a burden on the faith. Trying to divide this mess into good guys and bad guys does no good, and prevents the repentance and healing that must take place.

        The Reformation is over. Nobody “won”. The postmodern age doesn’t give a flip about our polemics – the simply look at us and say “So what?”. We can only answer that response with a question of our own, addressed to ourselves: “How then shall we live our lives?”

        • ZuzanaM

          This is the crucial and only truth about the Church that we must accept, in order to put behind us the controversies about the Reformation and any ‘scandalous’ history of the Church:
          “For you are Peter and upon this rock, I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH.” (Matt. 16)
          Any attempt to judge the Church and correct what is wrong with it, in our estimation, is in effect to say that Jesus has failed. Do we think that He can’t build His Church without some human messing it up, and another self-appointed human trying to fix it. Jesus left the Church in the hands of Peter and his successors. We are frail and incompetent; the consequences of sin and death, inherited at the Fall. Let those among us who are without sin, cast the first stones at Holy Mother Church. BUT for me and my house, we will serve the LORD and His Church.

          • U. V. Ernest

            It amazes me why people lose faith so easily. Christ said, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church…” who are we to start undermining the authority of Christ?

  • JefZeph

    The heresy of universalism is so pernicious and has such a lulling effect on the spirit. Even the most devout can catch themselves dozing now and then. I think Pope Francis has begun to make some inroads with his frequent references to the realities of hell and the devil.

    The hijackers have been able to gain a certain foothold in their message, but that is to be expected, as that is who they are. In the end, I think that their acceptance of him will eventually lead to more of their followers paying attention where they might not have otherwise.

    In other words, the enemies of the Church may unwittingly end up pointing toward Her to their own demise.

    • Tom Lewis

      Excuse me but “the heresy of universalism” Here is a list of heresies on Wikipedia (for conciseness). Universalism is not on there. Perhaps the church history buffs could fill in the missing blanks for me.

      • JefZeph

        And if I claimed that only cigarette smokers went to hell, that wouldn’t be heretical unless it showed up on Wikipedia? Surely you can’t be serious.

        • Tom Lewis

          Alright don’t get so hot under the collar, then you referring to this group which would appear almost invisible considering that most Protestant religions have morphed and almost disappeared into a number of insignificant groups. And not that significant to talk about.

          A Liberal Protestant sect — found chiefly in North America — whose distinctive tenet is the belief in the final salvation of all souls. The doctrine of universal salvation found favor among members of various Christian Churches (see APOCATASTASIS for its treatment anterior to the foundation of the Universalist Church). The present article will exclusively consider Universalism as a separate denomination.

          Doctrinal principles

          The historic creed of this religious body is the profession of belief adopted by the General Convention at Winchester, New Hampshire, in 1803. It contains the following articles:

          We believe that the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testaments contain a revelation of the character of God and of the duty, interest, and final destination of mankind.

          We believe that there is one God whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord, Jesus Christ by one Holy Spirit of grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.

          We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practise good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.

          To meet the objections raised by some Universalists to parts of the foregoing articles, a briefer statement of essential principles was adopted in 1899 by the General Convention held at Boston. It required for admission to fellowship the belief in the following articles:

          the universal fatherhood of God,

          the spiritual authority and leadership of His Son Jesus Christ;

          the trustworthiness of the Bible as containing a revelation from God;

          the certainty of just retribution for sin;

          the final harmony of all souls with God.To the admission of these principles must be added “the acknowledgment of the authority of the General Convention and assent to its laws”. The Trinity is usually rejected by present-day Universalists. The reception of the sacraments is not enjoined; but baptism (according to the mode preferred by the candidate) and the Lord’s Supper are administered. The infliction of temporal punishment for sin insufficiently atoned for on earth is now generally admitted. A usage of distinctly Universalist origin is the observance of “Children’s Sunday.” A special day (the second Sunday in June) is set apart for the baptism of children and their dedication to God’s service. This observance has been taken over by other Protestant churches. For many years, the several Universalist congregationsadministered their own affairs independently, and the General Convention enjoyed merely advisory powers. The functions of this body
          were enlarged in 1866 and further extended in 1870, until it became the highest legislative authority for the United States and Canada.

          • JefZeph

            I was simply referencing Fr. Longnecker’s term for the common modern misconception that God is so loving and merciful that no one need concern themselves with repentance, salvation or the prospect of hell. In this post, he dubbed it the “heresy of universalism”.

            If all that you have written has another point, I apologize, but I seemed to have missed it.

  • Maggie Goff

    Here is what he said on his first day in the papacy during Mass with the Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel: (I just hope he keeps saying it over and over)

    “If we do not confess to Christ, what would we be?

    “We would end up a compassionate NGO. What would happen would be like when children make sand castles and then it all falls down.”

  • R. Ross

    Father you should feel no shame in supporting this Pope for our times.

    He’s a great man, but apparently a danger to some of the leadership in the church. Too much of church leadership today is spent merely behind the pulpit preaching and not actually living it out. Jesus was especially harsh on the religious figures of Judaism in the Gospels who were guilty of doing that. Contrary to that, Pope Francis seems to take the message out from the pulpit and to the streets. He is challenging church leadership by his example, and I really believe that as a result some of them see him as a threat. Again, that was how the hypocritical church leaders perceived Jesus. And he doesn’t do it disingenuously or vainly merely to get noticed but because I believe it is truly out of love that he acts. You’re right Father, we have a Pope for our times because we have one who is intent on living out fully the Gospel message, who tries to preach the Gospel at all times without or, when necessary, with words.

    • Howard

      “Too much of church leadership today is spent merely behind the pulpit preaching and not actually living it out.” That’s a nice, vague broadside. Please give names. Don’t say, “Oh, it would not be charitable to call them out by name!” It is not charitable to accuse the innocent alongside the guilty. Tell us, then, the names of at least some of the guilty parties.

      • James Kergosien

        True or not, this was the public perception of Benedict, a good and holy man who nevertheless was associated far more with writing books of dense theology than with giving aid and comfort to the spiritually and financially disadvantaged. Benedict led by word, which may have been all his physical condition permitted him to do; Francis is trying to lead by action, using that action to draw people to the Word, in a manner very reminiscent of his namesake.

        • Howard

          Yes, Francis is TRYING TO lead by action. That is part of it. But let’s be serious for a moment: forgoing the Popemobile, living in a different room within the Vatican, and washing the feet of a Muslim woman on Maundy Thursday do not really give “aid and comfort to the spiritually and financially disadvantaged.” The first two are really an expression of personal taste as much as anything, and the latter led to one woman with clean feet and the Church being held in contempt both by friends and enemies. Take my word for this; I am a convert from the Southern Baptists, and I hear the reactions from my own family. The truth of the matter is, WHATEVER HE DOES, SOMEONE WILL BE OFFENDED. Francis may not offend as many in the media as Benedict did (which may not actually be such a good thing), but he has certainly offended a lot of people, perhaps as many overall. The thing a Pope must do — it’s something we each must do — is make sure that the offense is not unnecessary, and therefore not wasted.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    It’s posts like this that makes this blog and two other Catholic blogs I follow, in particular, worthwhile. I wish more were as sane.
    Fundamentalists are becoming Emergent, whilst Orthodox Catholics are becoming like Fundamentalists. Crazy world.

  • Christian Peschken

    It’s good, a good strategy, to open up the dialogue with everyone, even if one is misquoted or even “hijacked” . It’s definitely better then sitting closed in and defending ‘the building” and complaining about the world around us.
    Like Pope Francis himself said ” As Christians we must be willing to take risks”.
    The Holy Spirit is one of the Holy Father’s “consultants”. Nothing to worry about. The Church will be just fine! I count on it.

    • Howard

      Is it really? How about “dialogue” with the Ku Klux Klan? Can we carry that out in a spirit of mutual respect and anticipate learning profound truths from each other?

      You probably think this is an unfair comparison, because most people think that physical violence is *much* more wrong than, say, giving people phony Sacraments. OK; suppose it is a group of non-violent Klansmen. Maybe the Church could dialogue on the appropriateness of reinstating the Jim Crow laws, peacefully and democratically, mind you, and of encouraging the use of racial slurs. Is this dialogue a risk we as Christians must be willing to take?

      Sorry, but there is no point in dialogue with groups that are dishonest or lack good will. The Church has to proclaim the truth, not mute it as a precondition for “dialogue”.

      • James Kergosien

        I am fairly certain that unmuted proclamation of the truth is precisely what Francis intends. As far as dialogue goes, it is always better to treat people like people, not like demons. If a Church group wanted to have an open, frank discussion with the Klan, I would see no issues with it. Dialogue is just that, a two-way conversation, it does not mean that you necessarily accept or agree with the other side’s ideas, you are simply interested in hearing them or taking an opportunity to explain their flaws. Put it this way: Of all the people you have ever met, is there one you can think of who responds better to blanket condemnation than to a non-hostile conversation? The Church serves no good purpose by deliberately making people angry for no reason; similarly, by earning the trust and friendship of other groups, we are better able to demonstrate the goodness of our ideals.

        • Howard

          If you want to have an open, frank conversation with a Klansman, that is one thing; having it with the Klan is an entirely different matter. For one thing, each human being will exist forever; things like the Klan or the Republican and Democratic Parties or the US Congress will come to an end. For another, a “dialogue” presumes a kind of equivalence between the two sides. This is true if I’m negotiating with a salesman (we are both human beings) or if one nation is negotiating with another. There is not even that much difference between me and the worst criminal in history; we are both sinners in desperate need of mercy. Well, there IS NO equivalence between the Bride of Christ and any merely human organization, especially one whose very constitution is radically incompatible with the Church. There can be no give-and-take with an organization dedicated to evil; the Church can and must give prayers and instruction, but an evil organization has nothing of value to offer in return.

  • Mary E.

    Most of what I wanted to say has already been said by others, and said well. At this point, it’s probably better to be optimistic and assume that “the world,” and even some Catholics, aren’t fully understanding Francises message because he hasn’t fully explained his actions and remarks than assuming, say, that they haven’t fully understood because their biases and preconceptions are blocking them from hearing the parts they don’t want to hear. Because that optimistic view offers the possibility that he eventually may be able to explain in a way they *can* understand. After reading much more of the interview on the plane back from Rio, both the questions and his answers, and seeing how many crucial, meaningful comments were omitted (or ignored) in much of the media coverage, I’m not feeling so optimistic about the prospects. But we should have hope.

  • Earlanne1104

    Tell your friends who are worried to be patient. Look at his preaching, especially during Advent and Lent. Why do they think he went through the trouble of publicly hearing CONFESSIONS in Brazil. We all saw it on TV. It sent me a message of what is important to him. More than one way to send a message – we need to repent.

    • Howard

      An excellent point! The Holy Father does, as so many have pointed out, believe in mercy, and true mercy comes in the confessional, not from an NGO. In the confessional our sins are forgiven, not rationalized and excused.

  • Charles Corbalis

    Father- I think you articulated the concerns of many very well. As the Kipling (I think) poem goes…we live in a world where the words of truth are “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.” I for one would care a bit less about what the media says if we had solid, regular teaching from our Bishops and our Pastors. If they preached more of the hard truth to all of us (me included) on a regular basis, it would help all of us avoid these traps. If our Bishops cleaned up their local Catholic Universities, made sure that the children in Catholic grade schools, high schools and in catechism classes, and the adults in RCIA and ministry leadership programs were being fed the solid nourishment of Christ…the damage caused by the media knaves would be minimized.

    • Rosemary58

      Thank you, Charles. you have expressed my assessment about the lack of teaching coming from the bishops. Sometimes I get the idea that they are really not very interested in the catechism. They may assume that Catholics know the faith because a few of us show up at Mass.

      • Tom Lewis

        Should not the era of Conciliarism be ended and returned to giving the pope the complete authority to chastise bishops who do not solidly teach the Catholic faith. Charles point is clear, the bishops do not produce the fruit that is guided by a pope.

        • 1x2y3z

          Are you not being a bit naive about the past? Pope Benedict XIV once complained: “The pope orders, the
          cardinals do not obey, and the people do as they please.

  • P. John Curran

    This is the logic of a professor of Bob Jones university. Bob Jones University is vehemently anti Catholic. They will not even allow alumni who convert to Catholicism, to set foot on their campus, ever again. That they find problems with Pope Francis does not surprise me. They had problems with Pope Benedict IVI and John Paul II before him. Francis is not a liberal. He has not change one teaching of the Church. The overriding message of his papacy , so far, is Mercy. Something the people of Bob Jones University could learn.

    • frdlongenecker

      ???? Did you read the article?

  • m8lsem

    You speak of deeds being insufficient because of the supreme need of faith. I hear an argument from the 1500′s being rehashed. My thought is that if you have real faith in God and Jesus, you will find yourself within the scope of your abilities performing deeds of care for the poor, the sick, the very young, the very old, the stranger (even if an undocumented immigrant). Faith without works is hypocrisy. Works without faith are admirable, but faith is necessary.

  • Irenaeus of New York

    “The masses were generally interested only in wonders and in security. When He multiplied the loaves and fishes, He startled their eyes. When He filled their stomachs he satisfied their sense of social justice. That was the kind of king they wanted, a bread king. “What else can religion do for man, anyway except give him social security;” they seemed to ask. The masses tried to force Him to become a king. That is what Satan wanted, too! Fill gullets, turn stones into bread, and promise prosperity—this is the end of living for most mortals. Bur Our Lord would have no kingship based on the economics of plenty. To make Him King was His Fathers business, not theirs: His Kingship would be of hearts and souls, not digestive tracts. So the Gospel tells us He fled into the mountains Himself alone, to escape their tinsel crown and tin sword. How close the masses were to salvation. They wanted life; He wanted to give life. The difference was in their interpretation of life. Is it the business of Christ to win followers by elaborate social programs? This is one form of life. Or is it the business of Christ to be willing to lose all the stomach-minded at the cost of reaching the few with faith, to whom will be given the Bread of Life and the Wine that germinates virgins? From that day on, Christ never won the masses; within twenty months they would shout, “Crucify!” as Pilate would say, ‘Behold your King.’ ”

    -Abp Fulton J. Sheen

    • ZuzanaM

      Great comment. Thanks for the quote of Abp Fulton J. Sheen, now Servant of God. As a missionary among the poorest of poor in the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi, Nigeria, I am convinced that those who promote the Social Gospel are really most interested in promoting political agendas, as their idea of caring for the poor. I say this, because when I attend Social Justice Committee meetings at my Catholic parish in the US, I hear lots of rhetoric and see little practice of sacrificing time and talents to serve the poor. It is usually the more ‘traditional’ Catholics, those who say the Rosary and visit the Lord at Adoration, who practice the Corporal Acts of Mercy in caring for those in need. We really can’t love others as ourselves if we try to do so from our own resource of love and goodness. We must first hunger and thirst after the righteousness of Christ, who gives Himself to us, that we might have life within us… rich and poor alike. For such is the Kingdom of God.

  • Emmanuel

    I believe that the Pope knows what he is doing. What he is doing is creating conversation about the Church among people who wouldn’t otherwise pay little attention to it. It is probably something new for the catholics who are only familiar with European and North American catholicism. But for the rest of the world, the Church first had to create an interest among the population before it could talk about Redemption and Salvation. They did it by feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, healing the sick, and working for peace and justice. All this was done by men and women who knew and accepted Jesus as the Savior and Redeemer. They did all that to attract an audience so that they could talk about Jesus and Salvation. Charity might not be the focal point of Christianity, but preaching about eternal life to those who are hungry, sick and oppressed rarely produced favorable results. While commissioning the 72 in Luke’s gospel, Jesus asked then to heal the sick and then to tell them about the kingdom of God (cf. Luke 9:9,10). In short, the Pope is from Latin America where he has probably done things a bit different from all those popes from Europe. The adjustment needs to come from us, not from him.

  • Brian Niemeier

    Wonderful post, Father. I’m reminded of Pope Benedict’s rebuke in Jesus of Nazareth to those who insist that the Church must give the world bread first, and only then preach Christ. As Jesus himself said, they’ve got their priorities reversed.

  • Martlet

    However, there is an equal danger on the other side, where people emphasise the spiritual without regard for the poor – who were always dear to Our Lord’s heart. Pope Francis has the right balance, I think, and it saddens me to see people distancing themselves from that love of the poor instead of being rightly convicted by what he says and does.

    • ZuzanaM

      I am a missionary in the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi, Nigeria and work among a people who suffer a poverty that in ways surpasses that of South America. Yet, my brother and sister Catholics in Nnewi, KNOW and love their Faith, which is not at all oriented toward the Social Gospel. Instead they teach and practice the Corporal Acts of Mercy. I find that they live in solidarity in their poverty, but to think that there is no sin, because they are poor, is to deny the human predicament from the Fall. Thus they practice the Spiritual Acts of Mercy as well, admonishing those who sin to repent. Sadly, in First World countries, driven by Political Correctness, the Spiritual Acts of Mercy are ignored. The proponents of the Social Gospel are, sadly, not going to promote the Spiritual Acts of Mercy… and thus they fail to fulfill the demands of the Kingdom of God which Jesus preached about.

  • U. V. Ernest

    it’s too early to start judging pope Francis

    • Rick DeLano

      “There is no Catholic God.”

      I would say it is not too early now.

  • James Kergosien

    Excellent piece, Father, I think you are right to be concerned, but I do appreciate the emphasis Francis is putting on the social side of Christianity. The greatest tragedy of his Papacy so far is the fact that so many seem to judge his actions, for better or worse, without listening to a word he says. Obviously this is the case for the secular media, but I suspect among the more “conservative” Catholics who are uneasy about him as well. I think it is healthy to have something of a return to the basics, so to speak, entrusting the seat of Peter to a man who has spent his life among the flock directly, teaching chemistry to high-school students and not theology to post-grads. Say what you will about those who preach the social gospel, but Christ did say to the young scholar, “sell all you have and give it to the poor” as the final condition for salvation. The social gospel is not the whole message, but it is a critical part of the full gospel, one that (in my experience) is ignored or paid lip service by most Christians I know. Francis is sending a message about the role of the Church by sending a message about the role of its leader: the Papacy is not about a fancy throne in an ornate palace, it is about ministering to all corners of the flock. To serve, not to be served. Francis is taking personal responsibility for the well-being of his flock, not the diffused delegation of responsibility that allowed the abuse scandals to persist for as long as they did. I wholeheartedly applaud this effort, and firmly believe that the “problem” with Pope Francis is a problem of false comprehension by those who simply will not hear. There will be lies told about Francis, feel-good heretical lies, just as there were vicious and hateful lies told about Benedict, but the fact that these lies exist, and always will, should not interfere with the telling of the Truth as this man sees it. If the Spirit endorses Francis, then I am willing to trust that the man knows what he is doing.

  • Paul Sho

    Can someone please explain to me why in a week that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights launched a global mult-imillion dollar campaign to propagate the idea that homosexual sex is okay, healthy and acceptable by both secular and religious authorities; our own leaders in the Catholic Church decided to chime in and say, “who am I to judge”.
    Are we here to please the world or the Lord Jesus?

    • Howard

      Please go read Jimmy Akin’s article on this.

  • James Kergosien

    Well, what’s a coherent plan? Christ Himself had a very powerful, focused message, but the means by which he preached left enough room for debate that there is still not full agreement today. For instance, when He effectively started a riot against the temple moneychangers, was that part of a grand plan or an off-the-cuff reaction? It certainly must have sparked a large amount of consternation and misunderstanding at the time; taken on its own, the act could be seen as an act of anti-Roman revolt, desecration of the Temple, condemnation of “casual” worship with regard to sacrifices, or simple petty vandalism. We know now that it was nothing of the sort, but the threat of misunderstanding did not prevent Christ from acting as He thought best in the moment. Keep that in mind when suggesting that a Pope’s every public action must be a part of some carefully-orchestrated grander plan.

    • Manny

      No you are quite wrong on Christ not having a plan. If you look through the Gospels ytou will see His every action was in coordination with what would be His high sacrifice. Sorry but you are most definitely wrong.

  • Paul Sho

    So many in the Catholic Church are clamoring for relaxation
    of church rules on homosexuality. And many are rejoicing at perceived change of
    tone at the top. Gays who are sexually active are over the moon with joy at the Pope’s comments, While faithful Catholics are arguing about what the Pope actually meant.
    “(Yet) wisdom is justified by all her children”,( Luke 7 v 35)

    But for Christians which is more important the flesh or the
    ” It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words
    that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6 v63)

  • Tom Lewis

    But what if the media rewards the Pope with Good relations with the world via his apparent activity with the “Social Gospel?” Will the pope know how to control that media, or will the media control the pope?

  • zag4christ

    Fr. Longenecker, your observations or explanations or really, your proclamations are accurate and wise. I have never been able to place social justice based Catholicism at a place in my mind where it felt right. Your revelation of it’s heretical nature made a dimly flickering light in my mind instantly shine with a almost forgotten brilliance.
    I agree with you that Pope Francis is/ will be God’s man for the church today. I actually think that another of the proofs of God’s mercy and grace is that He has for some ineffable reason given us three amazing Vicar’s of Christ in a row.
    May God continue to bless, protect and guide the Holy Father, bishops, priests, deacons and women religious.

    • ZuzanaM

      Good post. I agree that God has blessed us with the three recent popes … different in ways, but solidly united in the most important ways. In my mind, as I contemplate these teachings of the Church: 1) that we must know, love and serve the LORD in this life to be happy with Him in the next; 2) we must love GOD with all of our heart, mind and strength to inherit Eternal Life; and 3)the greatest of gifts are Faith, Hope and Love… I find corollaries to the three Popes.

      Pope John Paul II: Taught us to fear not, for the gift of Hope

      helps us to love God with all of our strength.

      Pope Benedict XVI: Taught us that the gift of Faith leads us to love God
      with all our mind.
      Pope Francis: Teaches us that the gift of Love empowers us to Serve God
      with all of our heart.

  • windjammer

    Excellent article as usual. The problem is with the media, not Pope Francis. They are going with or creating the warm and fuzzy optics and ignoring the cross and crucifixion. Kissing babies is a time tested media optic. Of course PF knows it just like all public figures know it. His honeymoon will last until PF has to invoke a clear orthodox response on an issue or incident that can’t be ignored or spun. When MSM discovers the iron hand in the velvet glove they will turn on him directly or blame some silent third party. The only thing the MSM loves better than building up someone is tearing them down. Vicar of Christ stands for objective truth which is anathema to MSM. Stay tuned. We haven’t even finished the top half of the first inning.

    • ZuzanaM

      Excellent comments. Thank you!

  • Nishant

    St. John Bosco said there are three marks of the Catholic – devotion to the Holy Eucharist, to our Mother Mary and to the Vicar of Christ. We would do well to inculcate all three.

  • Gemma L Rivera

    Pope Francis is the most Christocentric pontiff yet. His homilies are almost always exhortations to put Christ first and center. Today, he reminded everyone that the youth at WYD are following Christ, not the Pope, and he is just there to guide them. One time he lamented that people talk about Mother Teresa as if all she did was care for the poor and nobody mentions how many hours she spent on Adoration. There is so much wisdom (or Holy Spirit) in this approach, by speaking strongly on all aspects of Christianity, he has everyone’s ears.

  • Gemma L Rivera

    Pope Francis is the most Christocentric pontiff yet. His homilies are almost always exhortations to put Christ first and center. Today, he reminded everyone that the youth at WYD are following Christ, not the Pope, and he is just there to guide them. One time he lamented that people talk about Mother Teresa as if all she did was care for the poor and nobody mentions how many hours she spent on Adoration. There is so much wisdom (or Holy Spirit) in this approach, by speaking strongly on all aspects of Christianity, he has everyone’s ears.

  • Fr. Ben

    Your post does not live up to it’s name: it does not point out a problem with Pope Francis but instead it shows a problem with the Church. It seems that Pope Francis is EXACTLY the sort of voice that we need to heal a tragic division in the Church. Concern for worship, liturgy, and personal holiness has been divorced from social responsibility and vice versa. The Church needs to breathe with both lungs and work with both hands.

  • Marvin Macatol

    The biggest problem among humanity today is that they see only the works of the Church but fail (or maybe refuse?) to see the doctrine behind it. I was part of a movement that was castigated by no less than the Vatican for our over-emphasis on social at the expense of the higher call to evangelize. The community has since implemented painful corrective measures.

    Yet now, you are attacking the Vatican for its emphasis on social issues.

    Well, let me come to the defense of Vatican (the one who castigated us, if you recall the earlier paragraph). We can’t claim to be followers of Christ while closing our eyes to social issues. In the same breath, we cannot be effective in influencing values that dictate socio-political decisions without solid anchor on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    In that sense, it is not right to say that the Gospel “should ALWAYS be first.” The truth is, it is the ONLY thing there is. We spread the gospel in both words and deeds. To understand Pope Francis well is to first understand who St. Francis of Assissi is. He’s the one who said, “PREACH THE GOSPEL – USE WORDS IF NECESSARY.”

  • ZuzanaM

    Thank you, Father Longenecker, for a very important article concerning the very popular and sensational impact Pope Francis has had in the media. I agree that the world is being given a less than accurate exposure as to who Pope Francis really is. While the excitement has garnered much good press for the Church, the negative comparisons being engendered to contrast Francis with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and an overall condemning portrait of the Vatican, really saddens… and alarms me. I am a great fan of St Francis of Assisi and have studied and written of the great Troubadour of God. I am glad that we have Pope Francis and he is, like St Francis, a man of and for the people. However, St Francis so honored and respected the priesthood, that he denied it to himself. I think that God told him such, because his role… his mission… would not be that of a priest. I am, like you, certain that Pope Francis is the man chosen by God to lead the Church in this time. I also have listened to the teachings of Pope Francis when he was Cardinal… and know that he is Faithful to the Magisterium and is orthodox in his orientation. What we see of our new Holy Father might just be a sort of euphoria… such a deep joy in his calling (not prideful at all… but more childlike). I hope that soon he will be more serious and thoughtful when he interacts with the press. How can I suggest that he is not. I am sorry.

  • Patrick

    The problem with Pope Francis is he resembles the Gospel way too much… and the Gospel is challenging. Humans don’t like to be challenged. Catholics all too often create their idea of what Catholicism should look like and entrench themselves in that idea. A prophet comes along who does not necessarily promote our vision of the image of Catholicism and we are slow to accept. Christ is speaking through this man. Let’s listen!!!

  • George

    I once confronted my fellow clergy (then an Episcopalian now Home in the Church) that a presentation on Social Justice we were having presented to us did not include presenting the Gospel. I said, “I once heard a preacher say, “If we do not cloth the naked, someone will. If we do not feed the hungry, someone will. If we do not preach the Gospel, nobody will.” I was ignored!