The Problem of Pope Francis

will be hi jacked  by the worldly powers who would love nothing more than to emasculate the message of Jesus Christ and reduce the whole of the Catholic faith to an nice system of inspiring people to be nicer to one another. The stupid worldly powers try to persecute and obliterate the church. The really smart ones embrace the church and use it for their own ends. Henry VIII, for example, was one of the smart ones. He did not seek to abolish the Catholic Church. He simply stole it and turned it into an instrument of English nationalism and a force for consolidating his power over the English people.

Likewise the really smart worldly powers of today would like nothing better than to co-opt the Catholic Church into a one world system of bringing about peace, justice and niceness for all. If the Christian gospel can be reduced to a message of good will and kindliness, and if the Christian religion can be reduced to a network of soup kitchens and homeless hostels, the worldly powers will be happy.

We have seen the capitulation of most Christian groups in the developed world to this agenda already. The mainstream liberal Protestant denominations adopted the social gospel long ago, and are now not much more than a group of peace and justice campaigners who meet on Sunday for strategy sessions. The hip Evangelicals have gone a different, but similar route. Increasingly their message is one of self help, success strategies, rehab therapies, good parenting and how to manage your money. The cross of Christ and the need for repentance and redemption is quietly downplayed, diluted and discarded.

Pope Francis’ admirable emphasis on simplicity, ministry to the poor and justice for the marginalized will play into this tendency in our modern world. That’s why he is, at least at present, such a media darling. The mainstream media will play up his social gospel appearance and quietly ignore everything he says about true Catholicism. They will ignore any call for repentance and the need for forgiveness. They will ignore the cross where Christ the Lord was sacrificed for the sins of mankind. They will ignore everything he says about the Mass, the communion of the saints, the reality of heaven and hell and the need for the salvation of souls.

Francis must continue his special gift of ministering to the poor, the addicted, the prisoners and the sick, but I hope he begins to make it more explicit that as he does so he is not simply being nice to people and telling us to be nice to people too. Instead his work with the poor and marginalized is a prophetic action. Each time he kisses a disabled person he is revealing to the world a God who kisses the disabled. Every time he hugs a child he is saying to the world that unless you become as a little child you cannot enter the kingdom.

I hope he will make it more explicit that his care for the sick, the prisoners and the addicted is the care God has for each of us, for each one of us are sick with sin, chained in the prison of our selfishness and addicted to false pleasures and things that will not satisfy.

The problems of Francis will be solved by the prophetic actions of Francis, and the church and the world must not be deceived into thinking that his concern for the poor is merely the social gospel. It is much deeper than that, and it is our work to proclaim that deeper and more beautiful message of God’s saving love to a needy world.