The Tenderness of Francis: No, that’s Benedict! NO WAY!

A few weeks ago I found myself in the middle of a dust-up on social media. A supposed “fan” of Pope Benedict made a remark that, in light of what I know of the Pope Emeritus from my reading, made no sense to me. So I asked this rather cranky anonymous entity about it, and there ensued a very strange conversation; the more I quoted Benedict to this person, the angrier he or she became with me.

It was the tenderness of Benedict that seemed to be throwing this person off.

“Tenderness” is a word that has been used with some frequency by his successor, Pope Francis; it is not a word people associate with Benedict. For the ignorant and the perpetually angry, Papa Ratzinger is only a caricature –”God’s Rottweiler”. For the First Guardians of the Church Militant he is stern Commander-in-Chief which is, in fact, another kind of caricature.

What Benedict was, and is, is a Christ-lover; for the agenda-driven — whatever their pet-issue — this means he is all-Christ’s before he is anything else. It means, too, that to plumb his depths is to begin to drown in love that is maddening in a way, because it relentlessly points us away from our own concerns (and we are a generation that demands attention) for something deeper and finer; something that makes us truly royal children of a Revolutionary King.

What ended the social media session of cyber-contretemps was my reminding the cranky-one of Benedict’s exhortation, that all people needed to hear the words, “it is good that you exist”.

The conversation ended there, because a tender Benedict was of no use at all to this person’s agenda, which was to make the church behave the way he/she thinks it ought to.

And that’s everyone’s agenda, to a point, because we are all Eves and this is still Eden, and we would all be like as God, if everyone would just prostrate themselves to our ideas.

What was most interesting about the whole engagement, though, was the response of someone else — a Catholic-Junkie and witness to the melee — who, reading through the mess of input, saw those words “it is good that you exist” and, assuming they belonged to Pope Francis, remarked “very Jesuitical!”

That person, too, was shocked to learn that the words came from Benedict.

It says a great deal about how susceptible we are to media narratives and headlines — and how lazily we accept them as gospel-truths — that even those of us who are actively engaged with our Catholicism accept rather simplistic interpretations of our Popes. The occupants of Peter’s chair are all, by necessity, complex men whose intelligences are woven through the warp and woof of faith and reason. Many who will openly admire Benedict for his deep intellect and his doctrinal clarity, will fail to see his humility or his warmth. Those who see nothing but humility and warmth in Francis seem not to notice that this well-educated man doesn’t move on doctrine, except as to how we might best serve it within humanity.

What people miss, with both men, is that they are wholly and fully Christ’s, first and foremost, and therefore they are imbued with radicalism, but not as the world understands it.

Over Christmas, I gave a friend of mine a copy of Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. She likes “daily-reading” books, but when she saw it was Ratzinger-written she objected. “You know I don’t like him,” she told me.

Yes, I knew. She is someone who distrusts the press, and yet she had wholly bought into the Ratzi-Nazi narrative. “But you’ve never read him.” I said. Reminding her that she is a fair-minded person, I urged her to give the book a chance.

Yesterday, she called me up in tears.
“He is beautiful!” She said. “I had no idea!”

It seems that a daily serving of Benedict had begun to warm her up, but what got her blowing her nose over the phone was the excerpt for Tuesday, February 18th:

“The sum of human life does not strike a balance if we omit God; in that case, only contradictions remain. It is not enough, then, to believe somehow theoretically that there is a God; we must regard him as the most important element in our life. he must be everywhere. And our fundamental relationship to him must be love.

That can often be very difficult. It can happen, for instance, that one individual has many illnesses. . .poverty makes life difficult for another. Yet a third loses the persons on whose love his whole life depends. . .And there is a great danger that the individual will become embittered and will say: God can certainly not be good; if he were, he would not treat me this way.

Such a revolt against god is very understandable; often it seems almost impossible to accept God’s will. But one who yields to this rebellion poisons his whole life. The poison of saying No, of being angry with God and with the world, corrodes the individual from within.

But what God asks of us is, at is were, and advance of confidence. He says to us: ‘I know, you don’t understand me yet. But trust me anyway, believe that I am good, and dare to live by this trust.’ There are many instances of saints and great individuals who dared to trust and, in consequence, found for themselves and for others true happiness amid the greatest darkness.”
– from Auf Christus schauen pp 109-110

“It sounds just like Francis! Like something he would say!” My friend said.

Indeed. The voice of the Vicar of Christ is the voice of a tender shepherd who really does understand us, even if we do not understand, or do not allow ourselves to understand, him in all of his iterations.

That sounds like Francis? That sounds like Benedict? That sounds like John Paul II; that sounds like John XXIII; that sounds like Gregory the Great; that sounds like Leo the Great; that sounds like Sylvester; that sounds like Clement.

That sounds like Peter.

Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good? But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you.

Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.
1 Peter 3:13-17

The Papacy is an office of tenderness, served under a heavy cross.

I take my popes very seriously.

I take my popes very seriously.

Francis and Autism and Worship: All May Be One?
Scott Walker and the MSM’s Fake Respect for Credentials
Anchoress Shows Up to Give Homily at Mass! Also, Fatso!
Amid Storms and Wars, the Daily Outrage that is Francis
About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Frank

    Stop saying it’s just the press That is just not true. The press is aided and abetted by Catholic anti-Benedict forces. When Cardinal O’Malley himself draws those distinctions…..and John Allen reports them,…this is not a “secular press” issue. WhenCatholics who want to change the Church’s teaching on homosexuality use “Who am I to judge” to advance their own agenda…which is happening all’s not just a secular press issue. That scapegoating is starting to get old. Frankly, the narrative starts within the Catholic community and it would be braver of you to take that on.

  • Romulus

    As one of mostly trad sympathies (and consorting mostly with those of like mind) I must say I’ve never encountered this caricature of Ratzinger as avenging field marshall of the Church Militant. To me he’s a scholar and a gentleman, thoughtful and prudent, and a reliable teacher of crystal clarity, but with a light touch. I regret his decision to resign and wish he had instead drastically scaled back his public duties. What’s done is done — but I miss him.

  • MeanLizzie

    What an interesting way to begin a conversation, with “STOP SAYING…” It certainly makes me want to listen! :-)

    I hear what you are saying but the truth is — as a recent study attests — most Catholics aren’t reading John Allen (or for that matter, most online Catholic blogs and sites) or listening to Cardinal O’Malley. Engaged Catholics and Catholic Junkies like you and I are reading them, and that means many or most of the ppl we know are, too, but MOST Catholics, particularly if they’re only marginally engaged or interested, are not reading papal encyclicals or daily homilies or exhortations. MOST Catholics are getting all of their impressions and information about the church from the secular media, and that has been true for decades.

    One exception to that rule might have been the recent Spadaro interview with Pope Francis, but even that piece, when finally distributed, went largely to the secular press and a few of the larger Catholic news agencies. It was one of my complaints (and I made it publicly, and also complained to Jesuits directly so I guess you could say I was “brave enough to take it on”) that bloggers should have had at least been given a chance to read it under embargo, in order to immediately be able to comment, instead of having to play “catch-up” with the mainstream press. I’ve also complained about it re the release of papal documents.

    You sound cranky. Maybe go eat lunch! :-)

  • Adams

    so true, its sad how many catholics just sit down andtake anything the secular press dishes out

  • Michael Lee

    “That sounds like Peter.” YES! Thank You!

  • Martin the Tourist

    As a humble aside, might I suggest Images of Hope as a primer for those unaccustomed to PB16. While it’s difficult for Ratzinger to hide his depth, it offers a glimpse into his wonderful thought process without overwhelming the reader.

  • Dennis Neylon

    I have been listening, almost daily, for weeks now to readings from Benedictus on the Laudate app. I was always impressed by the quality of Benedict’s teaching as I returned to the Church five years ago, but until hearing the daily devotions, never realized the warmth within him. I always felt a warmth looking at pictures of him (as, to be honest with most Popes) because he reminded me of my grandfathers, men who could give advice and counsel with love.

  • MeanLizzie

    I didn’t know the Laudate app had readings from Benedictus. I’ll have to check it out, thanks!

  • Augustine

    Between the typical Catholic and the junkie one, there is also the lady attending mass weekly and going to confession bimonthly who reads the Sunday Visitor or the NCRep or even the diocesan newspaper, which often reproduces the items from these and other news outlets, which then makes her very much susceptible to editorializing.

  • faithandfamilyfirst

    That sounds like Benedict. That sounds like John Paul II. That sounds like John XXIII. That sounds like Gregory the Great. That sounds like Leo the Great. That sounds like Sylvester. That sounds like Clement. That sounds like Peter. That sounds like . . .
    Ain’t the Church just awesome?

  • johnnysc

    Still…..we must be careful that we do not obscure the Truth in the name of ecumenism.

    “It is an absurd dichotomy to love Christ without the Church; to listen to Christ, but not the Church; to be with Christ at the margins of the Church,” he said. “One cannot do this. It is an absurd dichotomy.” – Pope Francis

  • Joe Blough

    You regret his decision, do you? He doesn’t: I’ll submit to his judgement.

  • flatrocker

    Thank you for this. Benedict, it seems, has done a most courageous thing in allowing the scorn of the world to be heaped on his shoulders. While he carries this cross for all of us, this selfless action is allowing the glory of Francis’ message to be heard without distraction. And the irony of it all – it was Benedict’s message all along. Blessings to this holy man for the brave sacrificial act that has become his life. Let us pray that over time, this become his legacy.

  • anna lisa

    Oh wow. Thanks for the tip. My son put that app on my phone, and I didn’t even realize what I could read there. Lovely.

  • Maggie Sullivan

    I guess many things are in the eye of the beholder…….or in the ear of the one being insulted and attacked. I find Francis and his vicious attacks on conservative Catholics insulting, rude, and very unkind. Just a few of Pope Francis words for conserative Catholics take from the Pope Francis Little Book Of Insults:

    “Old maid!”

    “Fomenter of coprophagia!”

    “Specialist of the Logos!”

    “Rosary counter!”


    “Self-absorbed, Promethean neo-Pelagian!”



    “Mr and Mrs Whiner!”


    “Liquid Christian!”

    “Museum mummy!”

    “Renaissance prince!”

    “Airport Bishop!”

    “Ideologue of the Logos!”

    “Leprous courtier!”


    “Long-faced, mournful funeral Christian!”


    “Careerist Bishop!”



    “Liturgical obsessive!”

    “Sayer of prayers!”



    “Querulous and disillusioned pessimist!”

    “Sad Christian!”

    “Pickled pepper-faced Christian!”

    “Children! Afraid to dance! To cry! Afraid of everything!”

    “Asker for certainty in all things!”

    “Closed, sad, trapped Christian who is not a free Christian!”

    “Pagan Christian!”

    “Little monster!”

    “Defeated Christian!”

    “Creed-reciting, parrot Christian!”
    “Watered-down faith, weak-hoped Christian!”

    “Inquisitorial beater!”

    “Seminarians who grit their teeth and wait to finish,
    follow rules and smile [who] reveal the hypocrisy of clericalism – one of the worst evils!”

    “Abstract ideologue!”


    “Smarmy, idolator priest!”

    “Worshiper of the god Narcissus!”

    “Vain, butterfly-priest!”

    “Priest-wheeler dealer!”


    “Religious who have a heart as sour as vinegar!”

    “Promoter of the poison of immanence!”

    “Those closed in the formality of a prayer that is cold, stingy [who]
    might end up as Michal, in the sterility of her formality.”

  • Melinda Selmys


    I have to say that for a brief period I was taken in by the negative image of Benedict — but it wasn’t because of anything that was being said about him in the secular press (which I don’t read.) It was because of the way that he was being represented within the Catholic press. His most political, culture-wars-y, harsh and rigid sayings were being constantly trumpeted not only by his opponents, but also by his supporters. His kindness, his tolerance, his openness to dialogue, his humility, his opposition to paternalism, his concerns about capitalism, his resistance to American wars of aggression, his rebuke of moralism; those things got just as little press from the right as they did from the left. The Benedict quotations that would have shaken the conservative ideologues out of their tree were never quoted — which is why Elizabeth’s interlocutors (who were definitely very steeped in Catholic discourse) did not recognize Benedict in those quotations.

  • Melinda Selmys

    I believe there’s Biblical precedent. “Brood of vipers” isn’t the nicest of phrases. Nor is “Hypocrite.” Christ Himself wasn’t especially restrained when it came to rebuking the self-righteous. But I don’t think that Francis intends these words to apply to all “conservative” Catholics — only the ones who are narcissistic, Pelagian, cowardly, ideological, inquisitorial…and the reason why he talks this way to this type of Christian is that we’re the ones who feel justified in dishing out insults. I’ve called liberal Catholics “cafeteria Catholics,” I’ve looked down my nose at CWL Bake-Sale Ladies and I’ve been a “liturgical obsessive” who sneers at the Catholic Book of Campfire Songs, Felt-Banner Liturgies and the Judas Shuffle. I’ve been pickled-pepper faced, I’ve practiced narcissistic Pelagian virtue, and I’ve been guilty of rosary counting. Mea culpa. Francis’ call to repentance is on target. A lot of us have gotten into the habit of routinely insulting pretty much everyone in the rest of the world, including most of our fellow Catholics, and many of us have done so in the absurd belief that our insults establish us amongst the elite coterie of the righteous. We’ve dished it, we can take it.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    I just downloaded that app so I could pray along with the rosary podcasts. I’ll have to look for the readings from Benedictus.

  • nannon31

    That is the best Catholic post I’ve ever read.

  • Almario Javier

    Right. We all know the sins of the one side. But we have our own sins, too. The priest at a Latin Mass can admit it. Us orthodox-ish laymen should be big enough to do the same.

  • johnnysc

    I never understood the label cafeteria catholic or liberal catholic. If you don’t accept the a teaching(s) of the Church aren’t you protesting. They are protestants.

  • D.A. Howard

    With the throwing over the side of single men with breast-feeding in Saint Peter’s, I find Pope Francis to be anything but an example. I find him to a moral hazard to Catholic single men everywhere in the developed world. What happened to modesty?

  • Marcelus

    He May have forgotten omnipotent. Vicious attacks? What makes you think these comments were directed at you I take it? Tooooo defensive

  • lily

    If you find the sight of a mother feeding her child sexually titillating, then I’m afraid that’s a personal problem that bars you from meditating on a lot of icons. It is not, in my experience, a universal problem for single men, especially in societies where breastfeeding is most common.

    Certainly, moving the goalposts of modesty so that breastfeeding is considered immodest won’t help, because you’ll start finding the slightest flash of ankle causes you problems.

    And is your contention that the need of single men who find feeding a child sexually exciting to not encounter children being fed, is greater than the need of that child to eat the most nourishing food possible when hungry, and greater than the need of tired isolated mothers to be able to tend to their children without being isolated and socially excluded?

  • Athelstane

    For my part, I can’t regret the decision, since I don’t know all of what went into it; and at 86, it’s believable that he was not up to the demands of the office any longer. What I do regret (it pains me to say it, but I think I must) is the necessity of it, in light of the man elected to be his successor.

    The common refrain is that the Holy Spirit chose this Pope, making it improper to be critical. But if this is true, the same Spirit also chose Alexander VI, Stephen VII, and John XII – and, let us be candid, Paul VI. There’s been a spectrum of quality in our 265 popes, from bad to great. Most fall somewhere in the middle. We owe them our allegiance as Catholics, but this does not make every act or decision or public utterance that each one makes a good one.

  • Antonius

    I think that Pope Benedict will not only be declared a saint some day, but with all the amazing books and other writings he has authored, that he will be declared a Doctor of the Church.

  • MarcusRegulus

    Lest we forget, the World will never comprehend Christ. When the World comprehends Christ, it will become Christian. Whosoever follows Christ will be misunderstood, as a matter of principle.
    All the recent Popes could sing, “Nobody knows the trouble I seen. Nobody knows but Jesus…” Because not one of them have been understood by the World.