Not a few Catholics are troubled by Pope Francis. I can understand this. There are reasons for their concern, and many of their arguments make sense to me. But I even see a few critics who appear to have literal conniptions, blown gaskets, and serious bouts of distemper. Yet, I just can’t go there. In a sense I am with them, and I am not with them. Here’s what I mean:
I grew up in a Protestant faith which was rather Fundamentalist in tenor. I was trained to be very sensitive to doctrinal variations and the places at which lines ought to be drawn between various churches that claim a to be Christian. We didn’t use the word heresy, I don’t think Protestants use that word often for obvious reasons, but we certainly leveled the evil eye at all the heretics that surrounded us. But the word heresy is certainly appropriate for Catholics to use. The Church has a long history of battling false views of Jesus, man, and the gospel, going all the way back to the apostles. Although my own views have changed over the years, and I eventually entered the Catholic Church, I find myself giving a lot of sympathy to those who are called to battle heresy. Perhaps this makes me too sensitive, old habits die hard, but I have similar worries as do the critics of Pope Francis.
On the other hand, I have also come to see that the narrow way into the Kingdom of God (for it truly is a narrow way) also allows for a myriad of unique individual journeys on the path to faith. And those journeys are extremely hard to judge. This, I believe, is how we experience God’s Providence in our lives and in the lives of others. The lives of the saints not only challenge us to live holy lives, they also challenge us regarding the “process” because each saint is so different and unique compared to the others — and compared to us. Studying the saints is both eye opening and humbling. I want to be open to how God will surprise us. This is something Pope Francis frequently emphasizes.
So while I sympathize with the pope’s critics, I also realize two things: 1) God is in control, and 2) the best way to do battle is through the pursuit of holiness, prayer, and love.
First–God is in control. Let’s be honest, many of us respond to such statements by quickly saying, “Oh, of course, God is certainly in control, still…” or “Yes, yes, that’s a given, but…” Frankly, I don’t believe most of us truly believe that God is really in control, or at least we don’t act as if we emotionally, viscerally own this truth deep in our beings. We fret, we worry, we have conniptions and all that. But if we are Christians we ought to believe it, and that belief ought to have real concrete implications on our actions, words, and feelings. It seems to me that a lot of the ranting and raving, sometimes even foaming at the mouth, at nearly everything Pope Francis does, grows directly from roots that are not planted firmly in the radical faith that God is good, God is love, and that it is God who fights our battles. We pray, we submit, we serve, we love, we show mercy, we work hard at being Christ to others, and it is God who fights for us, His Church, and the the life of the world.
Second–holiness, prayer, and love. One of the great and shameful signs of sin dwelling in us is our pervasive tendency to see sin in others and not in ourselves. Christ says to take the log out of our own eyes before we take the speck out of our brother’s eye. We insist there is no log. Or we downplay it, excuse it, and dismiss it. The pope got a lot of praise, but even more criticism for saying, “Who am I to judge.” A lot of judgers then piled on. I think it very likely that was not the best moment of the pope’s pontificate, and even a closer look at the context of that utterance gives one pause, but truly, who am I to judge. My holiness is so inadequate that what I actually should say is that I don’t even have the time or the energy to judge the pope.
I have friends who make their living examining issues within the Church and writing articles about them. Part of their job is to be professional judges of various decisions and actions of Church leadership, and sometimes they are quite critical of the Holy Father and various Bishops. They are smarter than I, and more in tune with what’s going on, but even then, I cannot go along with them too much. I listen, but I hold back. I appreciate their work and observations. I even agree with them much of the time. And sometimes on this blog I will be critical as I am trying to sort out my understandings of Catholicism. But in general, I feel called to humility. It is not my place to criticize the pope or bishops. Instead, I am trying to seek holiness and, frankly, I am not good at it. I don’t really know how to do it.
Lately I’ve been called to prayer. So I pray for the Church and the pope every day. I pray for my parish and our priests. I pray for holiness. I read the Bible and the catechism every day. I do this not because I’m holy, but because I’m not. I look at myself and I have to say, “Who am I to judge.”
But I still judge. God have mercy.
Jesus save us from Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of mercy. Amen.