Hearing Pope Francis With the Ear of the Heart

Over at The Crescat, Katrina Fernandez is puzzling out Pope Francis and the way people react to him.

A lot of people have expressed to me the almost schizophrenic spiritual state Pope Francis puts them in. Admittedly, I too have felt this same bit of anxiousness at times. I’ve even heard comments suggesting the Pope is to blame for the divisive polarizing atmosphere between the “traddies” and “trendies”. They feel like he is constantly criticizing while we try and decipher who specifically he is admonishing.

Instead of interpreting the popes words as criticism we can start to view them as an examination of conscience. Also, instead of trying to view his remarks through a political filter, view them through an internal filter.

Kat proceeds from there to highlight a comment from one of her readers. It’s a good piece that inspired some private discussion among friends. I admitted that I have sometimes felt like Pope Francis is in frequent “scold-mode” but I also have taken it to heart, especially when — as with his discussion on the “dark joy of gossip” — he admits to his own failings, therein. I don’t know if he is so much scolding as simply daring to get deep down and personal.

And that is what one friend finally clued in to: “I think [Katrina has] got the key to this pope. Benedict spoke about universals, about the faith as a whole; Francis is always speaking to individuals.

Yes. And that may be precisely why he seems to “confuse” and to “divide”: because he is speaking as individual to individual.

Saint Benedict begins his Holy Rule with: “Listen, my child, to the words of the master, and incline to them with the ear of your heart…” but we do not know our own hearts except through the veils and filters we have installed within them, and therefore we each internalize the words differently; among us ordinary mortals the “insta-saint” is non-existent.

At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended, the people heard the words of the apostles in their own languages:

We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God.”

The people marveled that they could understand the words, and the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” began its practical growth from that point on. But hearing and internalizing are not the same things. Even those who heard Jesus himself speak the words of everlasting life, and of the Holy Eucharist, could not always get it, right off the bat.

It takes time to become who we are meant to be.
It takes time to really hear, really internalize the message, and then more time to bring oneself into conformity. It takes a whole lifetime of surrendering, stumbling and re-surrendering, to become holy — to “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect”. Humanly speaking, it is not possible without the help of God.

Incarnation is a process, after all.

And as Saint Peter demonstrated for us
, becoming all God means for us to be is not about worthiness; it’s about willingness.

I’m willing to hear the voice emanating from every iteration of Peter, and to take his words as an invitation to examine my conscience, study my faulty heart and to hopefully, over my lifetime, become a reflection of God and his goodness. I hope I get lots of time, because I’m not even close, yet.

I know that a pope’s every pronouncement is neither perfect nor infallible (unless spoken ex cathedra) but Peter — despite all of his faults — knew Christ, knows Christ more intimately than I. Never “perfect”, he proclaimed the Christ, denied the Christ, died for the Christ. He has not needed to be perfect for his followers to have found the pearl of great price.

(Comments remain closed until the wheezing is gone, sorry.)

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