Advice For All Papal Watchers: Chew Before Swallowing

Nathan, our youngest, has reached that hilarious transitional stage where he adjusting from receiving his sustenance almost exclusively through breast-feeding to actually eating solid foods. (And by “solid,” I mean “mostly mashed bananas and rice cereal mixed with yogurt,” of course.)

He’s both extraordinarily adept — I guess that goes with the early walking — and almost insatiable. Especially that last one. There’s a voraciousness and desperate speed to his eating, so I can barely keep up. No sooner does a spoonful of …”food” disappear into his mouth than he’s lunging forward in his highchair for more. It’s terrifyingly baby bird-like, and I find myself mumbling: “Dude! There’s no way you’re enjoying this. Just slow down for a sec, would ya?”

The past few weeks on the InterWebs have made me feel exactly the same way.

We all need to







We’re eating much too fast. And it’s giving us an enormous, collective tummy ache.

A few weeks ago, it was known simply as  “The Interview.” Say those words, and everyone knew exactly what you were talking about.

And we on the Catholic InteWebs were falling all over ourselves (and everyone around us) in a desperate, raptor-like attempt to have opinions on the Pope’s words  – opinions that seemed to be based as much on pull-quotes (or even headlines) as on the text of the actual interview. And opinions that often told us as much about the person holding them than they did about the Pope himself.

Everyone seemed to be searching for ways in which his words bolstered their pre-existing positions. Or their pre-conceptions about his orthodoxy or heterodoxy, media savvy or naiveté, humility or false humility. Everywhere I looked, people were seizing upon his words, and swallowing them whole. Without actually chewing. Without actually listening.

Days later, we’re no longer talking about “The Interview.” That’s old news; it has ceased to interest us. Now, it’s all about “The New Interview.” All about the ways in which the Pope’s latest latest words bolster our pre-existing positions; our pre-cemented opinions. And about how quickly we can get our thoughts and emotions out on the Internet for everyone else to see and affirm. (I can’t be the only one mystified — and alarmed — at how incredibly quickly the America piece has dropped off the radar, can I? And we’re already rushing on to our next meal? I haven’t even finished my first bite yet!)

Does that mean I can’t have opinions about what the Pope says? Of course not. I can, and I should.

But why do I feel compelled to form those opinions so quickly, and based on so little information? Is there any advantage to being the first person responding? Especially when that haste almost guarantees that I’ll also be the first wrong person responding? Or at best, the first much-too-hasty one?

I lost count the number of times I’ve caught myself making dangerous, self-serving assumptions since “The New Interview” hit. But what I do know is that They are Legion. And I’m tired of them.

I am tired of the desire to measure every little thing the Pope says against a pre-existing check list of Susanka Orthodoxy. I’m tired of seeing my friends (and those significantly less-friendly to me and my Church) doing that same measuring. That same calculating. That same trick of using what is convenient to me and mine while ignoring the rest. And of withholding approval until I’M DARN WELL SATISFIED.

Above all, I’m tired of thinking that I need to do it all in an instant; feeling somehow deficient if I don’t have an immediate-and-dramatic response to everything the Pope is saying. Come to think of it, my mumbled advice to Nathan are far more applicable to me than to him: “Dude! Just slow down! There’s no way you’re enjoying this, and it’s not doing you anywhere near as much good as it could. Or should. There’s plenty of time to take it all in. And a little patience and restraint will do wonders for my digestion.

I’m tired of swallowing without chewing.

Attribution(s): Treebeard” by TTThom, and licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons; “Pope Francis and Child” courtesy of Getty Images, which allows the use of certain images “as long as the photo is not used for commercial purposes (meaning in an advertisement or in any way intended to sell a product, raise money, or promote or endorse something);” “Nathan Eating a Stick” via me.

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About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, being amazed by his (currently) lone daughter, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.

  • frdlongenecker

    Is the Pope trying to eat that child in the final photo? I knew he was evil…

    • Joseph Susanka

      I am “upvoting” this comment, Father Dwight.

      …with the understanding that I have no idea if I’m following my own advice in so doing. Or not. Following it.


  • charlie

    Joseph, I cannot agree with you more. Yesterday when I saw that the ‘new’ interview was translated, available, and exploding, I actually took the time during my lunch to R E A D the W H O L E thing (I know, you didn’t think non-TAC people could get through an entire article. It was indeed a miracle to be sure). I appreciated what he had to say in the context he was speaking it, and the one thing I took away with great joy was that the way conversions happen, is through LOVE, not hitting someone over the head constantly with doctrine, nagging them, or forcing conversions. And I took that to heart for myself, that in my fatherhood, the most important thing to do is to love my wife and children well.

    I am sure those much smarter than me have some insight into his words, or have secret meetings where they over-examine ‘conscience.’ But in my experience, conversions happen through love and service of neighbor.

    • Me, Myself, and Mary

      “The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old.”

      How about abortion and homosexual marriage Pope Francis? Sounds a bit humanist to me. How long, Lord?

      • BillyT92679

        Or, how about youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old?

        Just because they aren’t “non-negotiables” doesn’t mean they are “negotiables.”

      • Dave Zelenka

        When we go to the margins of society–youth, the elderly, unborn babies–we learn how to love when it is difficult. If we ignore youth, they will continue having abortions and continue going to war. If we ignore the elderly, we run the risk of losing our stories our hope. I don’t want to go too far into the youth issue, but it is most certainly one of the keys. We must become poor. When we become poor all of these issue will begin resolving themselves within the Church. Then we will be a real example of God’s love and grace. This starts by focusing on the margins. As Pope Francis has said, the oil must spill over to the fringes. We must go and ‘anoint’ the fringes with God’s love.

    • Joseph Susanka

      You read an entire article, Charlie? I’m speechless. (I jest; I jest.)

      What you say about “context” is vitally important. I’ve seen so many disembodied Pope Francis quotes lately, I was beginning to wonder if he spoke only in tiny, controversial sound bites.

      I think that he’s said some challenging things. But none of them seem quite so challenging *in context*. (Also, “challenging” is not the same thing as “wrong.” Sometimes, a little challenge to my safe/well-fortified position is exactly what I need.)

  • Brian Sullivan

    It’s good to see you among the cooler heads. I hope they will prevail. Nothing like rushing to judgment on someone based on a one-sided, apparently poor translation of a report of an interview. Thanks for this.