It seems I can’t go a day without hearing about the pope. Such is the benefit of having Roman Catholic friends, I suppose.
I remember his election well. I was in a course on Crusader Art, went to go to the bathroom, came back, and we had a new pontifex. As a student at a Jesuit college, I saw the Holy Father’s elevation greeted with jubilation. Even one such as I, just coming to the Faith at the time, couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement, not at Benedict’s resignation, but at the joy of having the office filled once again.
The years since have been tough. I remember when the pope could do nothing without certain Catholics accusing him of all manner of machination and sinfulness. There was his narcissism when he kissed a disfigured man, his faux-humility when he chose to live in simpler quarters, even his lack of commitment to fighting for life when he didn’t address abortion enough during his visit stateside. Then there were the secular misinterpretations: he had made condoms acceptable in the Church, he would institute a female priesthood, and he was the Church’s post-Benedictine salvation. Misguided secular praise only fed the anti-Francis wing. For a long while, most Catholics couldn’t help but feel stuck in the middle.
As time has gone on, more pertinent problems have emerged: possible leniencies built into Amoris Laetitia, his occasionally ill-targeted remarks about the Latin Mass community, his recent kerfuffle with the Order of Malta. I still think most of these issues can be explained, or at least better understood, when one isn’t expecting the worst from the Holy Father. Angry posturing helps us forget all the good he has done, all the people he has brought to the Church, all the issues on which his orthodoxy cannot be questioned. People complain about a new wave of Ultramontanism, not realizing that years of overzealous and misguided critiques (Francis is a narcissist for hugging a disfigured man. Really?) have left many faithful jaded. Even if the headlines are to be believed and Francis is somehow tearing apart the Church, who is going to believe the boy who cried wolf after years of un-abating, merciless hammering?
This is, I think, where we find ourselves today: in what has always been a Church filled with the wheat and the chaff, sinners and saints, narcissists and ascetics. People have their valid concerns and ought to make their voices heard to their parish priests and bishops, but constant howling is unlikely to do much but sow more division. Those who refuse to admit Francis can do any wrong (and yes, I am forced reluctantly to admit that such people do exist), hardened as they have been by years of senseless attacks on His Holiness, are not helping either. So many voices screeching into the wind, dissipating into the ebb and flow of life.
What we can do, those of us without theology degrees, we lay people, we sinners who fill the pews and confessionals, is pray for Pope Francis and the Church as a whole. Not in anger or in the hope that he will somehow see things exactly how we wish him to, but simply to pray for him, to pray for God’s grace, for His love, and for a spirit of peace to reign within the Church.
Yelling online will accomplish little. Private communications with Church officials will help much more. But what will help the most is what always helps the most: rigorous prayer and a recognition that we all have played some part in our conflict and misunderstanding.