Three Popes and the Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz is a pretty smart book because the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion show three traits we need to be complete. If you only had a head, a heart and courage. It occurred to me on my walk this morning that the three popes illustrate what we need, the church needs and the world needs.

What was the first thing Bl.John Paul the Great said on the balcony? “Do not be afraid!” He’s the man of courage–the not cowardly lion. Throughout his papacy he exhibited this great and fearless fortitude–whether it was his triumphant pastoral visits to Poland, his ceaseless travels around the world, his confrontation of heresy and disloyalty, his survival of an assassination attempt or his final, courageous battle with Parkinson’s–played out in public–John Paul was the pope of courage.

Benedict XVI is the pope with the brain. First always in the background as the theologian and Bible scholar in chief, and then stepping into the shoes of John Paul to lead the church with continued teaching, writing and thinking. With his precision of thought and clarity of expression he articulated the fullness of Catholic teaching, liturgy and practice.

Now Francis picks up the keys and his constant theme is one of pastoral love and passion for Christ and his people. Notice that the three characters stick together and balance one another. The love Francis shows is mere sentimentality without the intellectual teaching of Benedict and it is weak compromise without the courage of John Paul.

It is natural for us to incline toward one pope more than another because of our  own personality types. Benedict XVI is my favorite because guess what? I’m like him. I’m bookish. I’m a Benedictine oblate. I understand and promote fine liturgy, good music and I like clear thought and a solid articulation of the faith. Others may warm more to John Paul because they are men and women of action and courage in the world. Others will gravitate to Francis because they have a Franciscan spirituality, they are people people and they go with their heart even if that means that life is sometimes messy and imprecise.

While this is true, it is also true that we need to get out of our comfort zone and learn to love and appreciate the ones of the three that do not appeal to us. Read More

  • Nathan718

    Great article, father. I must admit, I’m with you – head then courage and I struggle with the heart (and thus with Francis). Luckily, my head tells me he’s the Vicar of Christ, he’s the general, and I’m called to follow his lead, even if it doesn’t always make a lot of sense to me and courage gives me the fortitude to read (and re-read) Francis in light of the teachings of his predecessors. I like Francis, but I think I’ll always miss Benedict – after all his writings helped convert me.

  • steve5656546346

    OK, but lots of folks are saying that the Pope was misunderstood: but not the Pope. Many are saying that he was mistranslated: but not the Pope.

    If the results are not what the Pope wanted, why wouldn’t he change his communications strategy? But if this is indeed what he desires, who are we to over-ride the Pope’s right to be taken seriously for what he really believes?

    There is no reason that I know of to believe that the Popes disagrees with the coverage. After all, he keeps going back to the same sorts of sources.

  • AMoniqueOcampo

    So who would Dorothy be? The Church herself?

  • Sherry

    And we need all three to get home. :)

  • Howard

    Even after his canonization, he will “just” be St. John Paul II. He was a good Pope and CLEARLY a saint, but let’s not pretend he was on par with Gregory the Great or Leo the Great. He had too many stumbles (like kissing the Koran) and too many missed opportunities to clean up the Church.

  • Chatto

    Good thoughts Father. I’ve been thinking about the three Holy Fathers recently, and it occurs to me that they’ve also mirrored the progression in priestly formation at seminary – philosophy degree, theology degree, pastoral work. Bl. John Paul was a philosopher, Pope Em. Benedict is a theologian, and Pope Francis is a pastor. Of course, that’s not to say that each was exclusively this trait, but they’ve each had a focus or particular skill. Maybe the whole Church is going through a ‘seminary’, being taught in sequence by the Rector?

  • Jacob Suggs

    Can’t agree more. I identify most with Pope Benedict, and I miss his precision, but no one can deny that Pope Francis’ more obviously heart-felt approach will reach many who wouldn’t put in the thought to understand what Benedict said. And almost no one can fail to admire Pope John Paul II.

  • Xavier


  • David_Naas

    Most interesting perspective.
    For those who (apparently Catholic) feel free to criticize the Holy Father (dude, you’re supposed to listen to him, he’s not supposed to take orders from you), one can but say, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

  • AnneG

    Thank you, again, Fr L. I just got a flurry of text messages from my son. Raised in the Church and very heart oriented, but, the Citadel and the Marines did something with that heart. He was upset by some of the stuff floating around in the evangelical environment he now inhabits that Pope Francis supposedly said. I sent him 2 of your posts and one from Frank Weathers. That had an impact. Plus, he wants to read the book with Pope Francis’ homilies. Thank you.
    Also, my best friend’s son is coming back because of the heart of PF as well.
    PS I’m asking Our Lady of Guadalupe to pray for my son to come back. He will, he was born on her feast day.

  • Steve

    I was going with Hope, Faith, and Love. Wizard of Oz works too though. ;-)

  • Chesire11

    Put another way, they can be seen as represent the three theological virtues: Blessed John Paul II = Hope, Benedict XVI = Faith, and Francis = Charity.

    That is not to say that all three are not represented in each of them, but they each seem to exemplify one of them.

  • Chesire11

    Yes, yes, and YES!

    You hit the nail on the head. A living faith is a faith in motion, it is faith that is ever growing, expanding and deepening. A comfortable faith, which rests on its laurels is dead. These three Popes challenge us to sacrifice comfort, to grow and to be alive in faith.

  • Paul Stilwell

    Did you know that L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as an allegory for monetary reform?

    Check out this documentary:

  • Gemma L Rivera

    I think you are selling each one short by compartmentalizing them. I grew up with JPII – for me he was perfect, he was everything a Pope ought to be (man of deep prayer, global statesman, philosopher, it didn’t hurt he was good-looking, too :)). His battle w/ Parkinson’s was courageous but he was basically no longer in control of the Vatican during the 3rd decade of his papacy – this exacerbated the problems in the curia.

    I am awed by B16’s writings. His standing as a great theologian is only enhanced by the craft that went into how he communicated them. He was a lovely man too, even if a bit reserved. The advanced age he assumed the papacy did not afford him the youthful energy to tackle the demands of the ministry. I love beautiful music & sacred liturgy but not very keen on his ultra opulent, throwback vestments. I thought they were over the top obscene. I’m pretty sure Christ would not approve of it, even if he was the rationale for its use.

    To say that Pope Francis is all heart is a very narrow assessment of this man of God. He may not speak or write in a scholarly way, but he is the most astute
    of the last 3 popes. He has a preternatural understanding of the world & the times we live in, which allows him a clear vision for his papacy. It looks like he also has the political will to carry it out. What I love about Pope Francis is just the way he is – he has given himself completely to God, so is accepting of all his shortcomings and does not apologize for them. He knows he does not have a lot of time so he is taking the Church on an offensive engagement with the world. That’s what makes him so attractive beyond his pastoral touch. Just watch him. Now, if only someone can get him to wear better miters and chant!

  • Victor

    I’ve always thought to myself that our soul, spirit and Guardian Angels are governed by “ONE” Director and we Catholics should know who that is and if we truly have enough “Faith” spiritually in reality, this GOD (Good Old Dad) will make sure that we all sooner or later evolve to find ourselves in the right story if YA get my drift now? :)
    God Bless

  • Katalina

    Frankly I think these analogies are not needed because to me all three of them share these characteristics. For instance Benedict and Francis have courage and John Paul and Benedict have a heart. The problem here is not whether one is brave or intelligent. John Paul was also very intelligent. The question here is that Francis is not precise enough. Obama just praised Francis the other day. He had a heart Blessed John had a open heart as well. However like Francis he was Aldo naïve about this dialogue with the modern world. Francis needs to stop giving these off the cuff interviews and just stick with his prepared text. That way he won’t be taken out of context. This why his speeches in Assisi were great.

  • Panda Rosa

    I’m put in mind of John Paul standing beside Lucy in Narnia, Benedict debating with Alice in Wonderland, and Francis giving comfort to Dorothy in Oz.