Getting Used to My New Papa

Frank Weathers reflects here about the new pope:

Early on, in the midst of the preparations for the Conclave, while we all wondered who would emerge as our next pope, I made the following statement: “I’m like the grizzled noncom who doesn’t really care who the Commandant of the Marine Corps is, as long as he’s more of a Marine than I am, and you salute him properly.”

By that I meant that all I was concerned about regarding the forthcoming Pope was that a) he was holier than I am, and b) folks respect him accordingly.

I thought the other day that getting used to Pope Francis must be a bit like some kid trying to get used to a new step father. Dad passes away, Mom re-marries and suddenly he’s got a new Dad!

“Yucch! Hooray! Yucch, I hate this guy I want my Dad back. Hooray! This guy can do stuff Dad never did. He likes rock climbing but can’t tell stories like Dad. But Dad never did rock climbing. But this guy repairs cars. But Dad used to take me hunting. This guy is cool. I miss Dad. I like this guy. I wish Dad were back.”

Mixed emotions — and I’m wrapped up in it all too. Francis is from a far country. His life with the poor, his standing up to the dictators, his Franciscan spirit and his subversive attitude are great. But I miss Benedict and John Paul. JP2 was my papa. He’s one of the reasons I became a Catholic in the first place.

Benedict was his friend and for my money was even more “my” pope. We’re both bookish and like old stuff. He was quiet and knew his stuff. I miss him, and you know what, I’m going through a bereavement. All the classic stages are there. Denial. Anger. Blame.

Dad has gone, but hey, this new Dad is teaching me a new attitude and a new perspective. He’s taking me places I have only ever looked at from afar before. I guess I can go on that adventure. Or do I cross my arms, put out my bottom lip, maybe whimper a little and say, “He’s not my Dad. I want Dad back.”?

In the midst of all the media hoo ha and trying to figure out this new pope we all do well to remember this analogy of the new stepfather, and if Benedict was our much beloved papa, to allow ourselves to be bereaved.

And we should remember that the life is a casting off. The life of faith is not supposed to be comfortable. We’re supposed to launch out and do some wave walking. We’re supposed to be standing on our heads and looking at the world from a new perspective and if Pope Francis helps us to do that–and remember that St Francis was le jongleur de Dieu — the little tumbler of God–then let’s limber up and attempt a few back flips, and if we can’t do that then at least let’s try a little forward roll.

And if we topple over while attempting to stand on our head it’s best to lie on the ground and chuckle a bit before getting up to try again.


  • Suzy

    Except it’s more like my mom got a divorce and married this new guy who came into the house and threw my dad’s things in the trash and berated me for loving them. I’m trying so hard to love and understand this pope, but a lot of the time I really do feel like the kid with an abusive stepfather. I’m trying to put the things he says in context with the influences that shaped him, but here we are with a government that just declared war on faithful Catholics and it really feels like he not only doesn’t care, but that he thinks we’re too hung up on the issues of life and family. Last night I was actually pondering if there was any way Benedict’s resignation could be rescinded. I doubt Pope Francis has any clue how much he is hurting some of his flock. I totally agree with his stance on the poor, I hate rigorist teaching, I’m neither a Jansenist nor a rad triad. Yet I have to say it:s beginning to feel like one can be more Catholic than the pope. Please, Father keep trying to explain him so that we aren’t so frightened. Or maybe keep reminding us that 300 years ago the average person would have been exposed to none of the pope’s rambling words and the Church has survived worse.

  • Manny

    I said the following over at Anchoress’s blog on a very similar subject:

    The love part of Francis we all get. When he holds a child or disabled person, we thrive and love it. We love his simplicity and paying his own hotel bill. It’s when he gets theological that he causes confusion. It’s not that he’s said anything erroneous, as his post confusion explanations prove. It’s that he doesn’t put his message at the moment of articulation in the proper context. Why was Papa BXVI so clear even though his theology was so much more complex than Francis’? BXVI communicated well in that he understood the audience would have trouble with this or that idea, so he framed it in the proper manner. Francis doesn’t set his ideas in context, and so miscommunication happens and, more importantly, those who have other views than traditional catholicism read and pass on the wrong interpretation of the meesage.

    • Victor

      (((Francis doesn’t set his ideas in context, and so miscommunication happens and, more importantly, those who have other views than traditional catholicism read and pass on the wrong interpretation of the mess age.)))
      I think I know what you mean Manny but for the time being let’s be thankful that His Holiness has only been putting both feet in the water to test “IT” so in the mean time and time can be mean, let’s all be thankful that He has not literally gone for a swim if YA get my drift NOW? :)
      God Bless Peace

    • Frank

      I think this critique of Pope Francis gets the matter precisely wrong. The reality is that it’s Francis who has been able to communicate the gospel message effectively, through his simplicity and directness, and Benedict who repeatedly failed to communicate that message effectively because of his carefulness in framing his public statements.

      This is not a critique of the substance of anything Benedict said or didn’t say. It’s simply pointing out that communication is a two-way street: communication must always be received by a listener, and it will always only be received according the “mode” of that receiver. In other words, if you are always careful to make precise theological distinctions in public statements, you will always be misunderstood by people who lack the theological training necessary to fully appreciate those distinctions.

      This means that Benedict could not possibly ever have been properly understood by most people who heard him.

      Let me use an analogy — and this is for me an effective analogy because it makes me uncomfortable. Ronald Reagan became known as the “Great Communicator.” Why? Because he spoke in a way that most people could understand, even though he showed not much intellectual sophistication or education in what he said. Personally, I hated him and never understood that kind of communication. But in the perspective of years, I can see that, however much I disliked Reagan, it’s undeniable that he was an effective communicator — extremely effective. For me, painfully, exasperatingly effective.

      Pope Francis is communicating the deep truth of the gospel effectively. People hear it, people see it. You think many people claim to like the Pope only because they think he’s giving them room to misinterpret Catholic teachings. But I think he’s communicating the faith in a way that makes it beautiful and attractive for millions of people both inside and outside the Church — because it speaks to the heart first, not just the mind.

      • Manny

        All I know is that there is chaos after almost every major Francis event, and the need for clarifications. When people like Jane Fonda and Chris Rock are praising the Pope for what they think he’s saying, even if he’s not saying it, then I would put to you the Pope is either a great politician (making all people think he’s supporting their view) or he’s miscommunicating. Either way, something is not right. I don’t find Francis as simplifying the message ala Reagan. I think he’s not providing the correct context to fully grasp his message.

        • Frank

          Maybe the “chaos” stems instead from flaws in understanding the faith on the part of those who are most uncomfortable with Pope Francis. Or to put it more pointedly: maybe the Pope has a deeper grasp of the faith than you. Just a possibility.

          I never said the celebrities who like Pope Francis fully understand him. Though you may dislike them, their enthusiasm suggests they are people of good will who recognize goodness when they see it. And that’s a problem for you and many others. Why? Is it because you’re determined to see every human event through the lens of the culture war: liberal secular relativism vs. eternal objective Catholic Truth?

          Please consider the possibility that the culture war is just a myth, and the pope’s popularity is one piece of evidence showing that it’s a myth. There are other ways to be Catholic than Us vs. Them.

          • Manny

            Hey, you’re the one who brought up Reagan and created a
            political right/left. I didn’t. All I said was the Pope fails to provide the correct context so that the general public, including the media, misunderstands him. And please don’t lecture me about us verses them, especially since you’re
            the one who is consumed by it, evident by you bringing Reagan into a conversation that had nothing to do with what’s being discussed. As far as I’m concerned this conversation is over. Have a nice day.

      • Kennyth

        Pope Francis is a very good communicator, and a main message he’s communicated is that the left is in charge of the Church these days, and big changes are on the way. While that’s fine, and I pray for him earnestly, no one’s under an obligation to like it.

  • Chesire11

    “The life of faith is not supposed to be comfortable.”

    EXACTLY! A faith that is alive and vital is one of constant conversion, of embracing deeper communion with Truth, and letting go the familiar, but less insightful models through which the finite mind of man struggles to come to terms with the infinite mind of God. It IS uncomfortable, but the alternative is a dead faith, a dusty museum piece, familiar, but ultimately stunting. We don;t like to be challenged. I don;t like to be challenged. It’s much more fun to point out the errors of others, yet not half so much fun to admit, much less accept admonishment of my own myriad errors.

    Pope Francis is waking “conservative” Catholics out our our collective smug slumber, and we keep cursing and reaching for the snooze alarm. Wake up! We’ve been smug, and lazy for too long, it’s time to get back to the classroom!

  • Ryan M.

    This is very well-said, Father…thank you. Papa Ratzi’s writings had a major part to play in my decision to come home to Rome, and my first Holy Communion was “together with Benedict, our Pope.” I, too, am grieving, but you are right that the Holy Spirit will teach us new things with our new Papa!

  • Susy

    I am a Traditional Catholic, the Chair of Peter is empty until we get a TRUE pope, meaning ordained in the Traditional Rites, following Vatican I to the letter with all dogmas and Rubics in place!

    • jaduncan

      Wow, that’s insane.

    • Darran

      You have a long lines before you, Ariusm, Nestorius, etc..
      I am wondering do you advocate castration as well in order for men not to be sexually tempted?
      or ladies should always wear floor lenth skirs right and be submissive..
      Congratulations the road to hell is wide and open for the likes of you Susy..
      and you remind me of Pharisees during the time of Jesus, which He doesn’t like much anywaym, right?

    • Dan F.

      “I am a [Protestant]…” there, I fixed it for you…

    • Gordis85

      At least you are honest and your previous comments make more sense now.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    There’s no time to grieve on a battlefield. If we judge our allegiance by what we feel about the general, the battle would surely be lost. That’s the real worry and danger at the moment. Those who claim to be defenders of the faith are themselves becoming mutinous, showing themselves loyal to a previous general rather than the country.

    • Gordis85

      So true…we should all follow Papa Emerito’s example since he has pledged his loyalty to the Holy Father. Benedict, he is a fine example of true Christian charity.

  • steve5656546346

    I wonder if our new papa will ever get used to us?

    • Gordis85

      He prays for us all. I am sure he is well aware of those most critical towards him and loves them most. Viva il Papa!

  • CrustyNatsFan

    This was a very thoughtful piece. The analogy helped put some of the angst that some fellow Catholics are feeling towards our new Pope in some perspective, which I have to say I’ve not fully grasped and have been a bit baffled by at times. Your piece helped me in that regard. Thank you, Father.