Pope Francis or POY Francis?

I wrote yesterday on the selection of Pope Francis as TIME magazine’s Person of the Year here for Aleteia, observing,

While all Catholics rejoice in the widespread popularity of Pope Francis, many Catholics are also dubious of the motivation and manipulation of his image and message by those who are enemies of the Catholic church. Because of his warm and welcoming style, Pope Francis is being hailed as a progressive, and those who oppose the Catholic faith will use Pope Francis to promote their own agenda.

Meanwhile, Tim Stanley at the Daily Telegraph makes a good point about Pope Francis’ accolade of being TIME magazine’s person of the year. Writing here he says,

The Time piece misunderstands Francis and his job description. It trawls through the details of his biography and mines every little ambiguous thing he’s ever said because it presumes that the Church is an extension of the will of one man. It is not. It is, according to Catholic doctrine, the mystical body of Christ. It is the Way, the Truth and the Life as discovered through revelation, scripture and tradition. It is not guided exclusively by a man but by the Holy Spirit. It cannot err, change its mind or bend according to fashion because it is a divine instrument and God doesn’t change his mind. Sorry if all this language seems a bit religous-y, but we are talking about a Church here – not a political party or a corporation. As such, it can’t be reduced to biography.

Tim links to William Newton’s blog here which also dissects TIME’s selection of Francis.

Today Catholics everywhere will be reading about how Pope Francis has won a beauty contest sponsored by TIME magazine, a publication which spends much of its time working diligently to undermine the work of the Church over the past two millenia.  I realize that I will be expected by many to tow to some sort of accepted Catholic line here, about how great it is that people are paying attention to the Church because of this particular Pope, and how this pontificate is so full of – ahem – hope and change.  I regret to inform the reader that he will probably be disappointed.

A bit waspish perhaps, but I agree with both writers that the Pope Francis of TIME magazine is largely an invention of well…TIME magazine. They have taken the successor of Peter and dressed him up in their own clothes. In other words, they have made him the darling of the left wing coffee house intelligentsia. This has probably not been done consciously. That would be to assign a high level of intelligent cunning to them. Instead they have simply seen in Pope Francis what they want to see, just as they did not see in Pope Benedict what they did not want to see.

Rather than inveigh against the mainstream media masters (Tim and William do a pretty good job of that) I suppose we should be grateful that TIME magazine considers the Pope newsworthy and that our new pope has got people talking and thinking and arguing about the Catholic Church.

Have the writers at TIME done a chameleon job on the pope? Probably. I’d simply add that we should all be wary of re-making Pope Francis in our own image. One of the things I like about Pope Francis is that he really is the Pope outside the box. He is unpredictable, shrewd and open. Consequently it is tempting to our own reflection in him. He speaks and lives universal truth and the temptation for all small minded people is to hear only what we want to hear and see in him only what we want to see. He’s bigger than that because the faith is bigger than that.

All us–from the glitterati to the illiterati–need to stop, look and listen not to our prejudices and preconceptions, but to who Pope Francis really is–and looking through him to see the one who’s vicar he is: Christ the Lord.

The temptation to see ourselves in Pope Francis is the same temptation we have when we come to the person of Jesus Christ. We tend to re-make him in our image. Revolutionaries see the radical freedom fighter Jesus. Contemplatives see the man who retreated to the wilderness to pray. Compassionate types see Jesus the healer. Bookish sorts like Jesus the teacher. Sentimentalists like gentle Jesus, meek and mild who carries little lambs on his shoulders and blesses the children.

The bigger a person is the more he defies categories and transcends human preconceptions. When you read the lives of the saints you find real people who live outside all the boxes. They embrace all  the truth and love all things according to their worth. So it is with Pope Francis. Is he TIME Person of the Year? Wonderful, but he’s bigger than that honor.

Much bigger….by the way, the two popes soon to be canonized were also POY here’s an article reminding us that John XXIII and John Paul II were also POY, and Elizabeth Tenety comments similarly here very eloquently at the Washington Post.

Francis is doing work not only that Jesus modeled but that has been practiced by countless Christians in His name for millennia. To Catholics, Francis may feel refreshing, but he isn’t surprising. We’ve seen his example in Catholic homeless shelters and hospitals; though the humble service of the priests, brothers and nuns who taught us; in the lives of anonymous heroes and canonized saints. It’s the Christianity we’ve learned in our childhood CCD classes and read in classic spiritual texts. It’s the Christianity that’s inspired for 2,000 years.


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