The Pope Francis Effect (or why I’m having a tough time)

Posted at Catholic Insight and Catholic Lane

Pope FrancisI have a confession. I’m having a tough time adjusting to Pope Francis.

I admit that I’m a Pope Benedict XVI fan girl and I’m still getting over Pape Bene’s understandable departure. It’s like when your best friend moves far away and no matter how hard you try, you can’t help but compare all your other friends to him. Or when you’re at an extended family gathering and both your granddads are there and even though you respect both of them, you clearly prefer one over the other.

But it’s not just that. We can all agree that right after Pope Francis says something, articles, youtube videos, and blog posts immediately appear trying to explain what he just said. It’s like he’s the relative that, whenever he speaks, we wonder if we heard correctly.  We’re all trying to interpret, clarify, justify or put our own spin on his statements. It can be frustrating trying to make sense of it all. What’s My Line: the Pope Francis Edition is really trendy right now and everyone from the stay-at-home mom blogger to Fr. Z has jumped on the bandwagon.

He is who he is, tempered by life as he knows it, and to give him his due, he is the Holy Father of a church family of 1.2 billion people with diverse ideas, experiences, attitudes, and personalities. Like all extended families, there will always be tension and misunderstandings and he’s steering the barque of Peter through some pretty rough seas while the rest of us quarrel. I wouldn’t want to be in his [not red] shoes. Would you?

A major part of my discomfort is the bickering that his statements cause among the Catholic family. My perception is that of a line drawn between those who are head-over-heels in love with him and those of us who are not as enthusiastic.

I’ve read articles, commentaries and Facebook posts that maintain a civilized, grown-up tone while debating his latest speeches and interviews. But then there are the comments that are less reasonable and seem to be on the attack, whether for or against Pope Francis. The worst ones are the rants and responses that clearly show a lack of basic understanding of Catholic doctrine and teachings. Those are the ones that are impossible to discuss. Those do the most harm and drive a wedge between family members.

I know I’m rambling but I’m sure I’m not alone in my thinking. I love our Catholic family even when we fail to act charitably towards each other. We’re big and colourful and imperfect but we do a lot of good both inside and outside the family circle. Because there are so many of us, it’s understandable that we won’t always agree but we ought to tone down the volume and at least try to keep an open mind. We ought to learn more about the family history and read up on what older family members have written over the past 2000 years so that when we have our spirited discussions, we’ll at least know what we’re talking about. Like all family histories, there’s the real one and the made-up one so we have to be very careful who we read and listen to.

The Catholic Church is my home. I’d like to believe that I would lay down my life to defend Her. And I really want to do the right thing by Her. But what is the right thing?

A wise friend pointed out that no matter what is going on around me, no one can stop me from doing my work and saying my prayers. So that’s what I’m going to do, for the sake of our Catholic family.

My work consists in loving my neighbour(which includes difficult family members and Pope Francis)  as myself. I don’t have to treat everyone like they’re my favourite brother or uncle or grandfather, but I have to respect them and recognize when to speak up and when to keep quiet.

And my prayer? I’m begging St. Joseph to look after Holy Mother Church and beseeching St. Michael the Archangel to defend Her. Most importantly, I’m taking the example of our Blessed Mother who teaches us the most valuable lesson in prayer. I’m holding on tight to Mother Mary’s hand, hiding beneath her mantle and quietly, steadfastly and humbly repeating over and over again: “Thy Will be done.”

Deo Gratias

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51 Responses to The Pope Francis Effect (or why I’m having a tough time)

  1. I get this. It’s as if you visited my mind for a while, got inspired, and typed a lot of what I want to say;) Times across the board are tough for me in general. I see a lot of compromise, distortion, and selfish interpretations. And then even I get thrown to the wayside, wondering if I know my rump from my elbow! People are looking for their own justifications, which will always screw things up. I have gone back to the Old Testament – the big book that scares people away these days, and it is all there regardless of what walking men say here on earth. Jesus is forgiving, but like his father, He is no fool. This new Pope says good things and then things I feel are “opaque”. Prayer, Dear! Pure action. It is our only hope.

  2. This is the most loving article from someone who is troubled by pope Francis that i have read.

    I wrote an article for Catholic Stand from the opposite perspective, of course 🙂 One intelligent and knowledgeable commentator who LOVES Pope Benedict has a deep understanding of Pope Francis and his comments really help those struggling. His best phrase:

    It’s a change in tactics, one that already began with Pope Benedict. The issue here is “if I do not have love, I have nothing.” Pope Francis is simply asking that in pursuit of the Truth, we do not sound like clashing gongs.

    WSquared’s comments are so good..if you have anytime to read, I know this man who loves Pope Benedict would help you with this pope

      • Thanks, Melanie, and thanks for the link. I read your article but I have to admit that there’s a section in it that surprises me.”….. his down-to earth spirituality and humble solidarity with the poor and this irritates many traditionalists. Jesus and St. Francis of Assisi also irritated the Pharisees of their eras; those pure proponents of tradition dislike anyone who challenges their lifestyle.” I’m not sure how you define traditionalist in your article but I wonder why there is the corelation between traditionalists and pharisees? I think statements like that just add fuel to the fire of quarrelling and don’t foster an atmosphere of mutual respect.

      • point taken.. the comments by W Squared helped teach me a better way to express myself. I should have used another term for a person who is rigid, proud, certain that they are always in the right and quick to condemn..of course i am thinking of people I know personally who feel that they are the pillars of the Church yet they lack Love and maybe, even a vital, personal relationship with Jesus.

      • Thanks, Melanie. Or maybe they’re just frustrated and trying to find their way.

      • ah yes… if I cannot look at everyone with love, something in ME has to go

    • Agree with Melanie. This is a loving response. Love is a choice and clearly you choose to trust the Holy Spirit, in the footsteps of Mary even as you struggle with your own opinions. I love Pope Francis perhaps because of my Ignatian and cultural background so similiar to his, but I have to choose to love and act charitably toward my brothers and sisters, even when we don’t see eye to eye on our Holy Father. Sr. Theresa Noble wrote a thoughtful piece on this issue, basically that despite her opinion, she’d rather be the sheep carried around the Sheperd’s shoulders than one of those nipping at his feet. BTW, wonderful article Melanie.

  3. Terry, I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling with this. I appreciate your honesty and your charity. I am one of those people you didn’t think existed–in the middle about Pope Francis. 🙂 He is not a precise speaker, but when you dig into his words, he says some wonderful things. He says them differently than Pope Benedict would, but I think it’s more of a temperament issue than a difference of opinion. The Pope Emeritus is probably melancholic–very careful and correct (like my dh–see, I love that kind of person too!). Pope Francis is more phlegmatic–the likeable guy who is quiet and disorganized. I understand them both, because I am a mix of both temperaments (with a little uniqueness thrown in).

    Truthfully, Pope Benedict was misinterpreted more times than I could count. Remember Regensberg, and his comment about condoms? But his position on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass was clearer, so he didn’t scare the more traditional Catholics as easily.

    The common thread I see is that all 3 of the most recent popes have said, “The Faith is all about Jesus.” That was a central theme for JPII. Pope Benedict wrote about it as well. Now Pope Francis is basically saying, “What the world needs is an encounter with Christ. Everything else is secondary.” And he is right. But it’s challenging.

    I think what’s so hard about adjusting to a new pope is he is our father. It’s like adjusting to a new dad, rather than a new boss. It takes grace. Keep praying.

  4. SaintlySages says:

    Some personal thoughts: The issue underlying the present tumult concerns the authority of this pope’s impromptu remarks. Many people mistakenly think that all the pope’s words are intended to be infallible. They are not infallible unless he specifically declares them to be so, and only in matters of faith and morals; popes have done this only twice. People should hear out the pope as they would any bishop, keeping in mind that some bishops are better theologians than others, and some are better at expressing their thoughts than other. Francis often presents one facet of an issue without addressing other aspects. Consequently, his remarks are open to interpretation, which the media spin and which theologians rush to harmonize with accepted doctrines. Based solely on his incomplete remarks, some people see Francis advocating moral laxity, and thus, brand him as either a heretic or a hero. We did not experience this phenomenon with Benedict, John Paul, and other popes, because they typically explained their teachings more fully. If people today want to learn official Church teaching, I suggest they read the Catholic Catechism, which presents fundamental doctrines defined by Ecumenical Councils, which are infallible in matters of faith and morals.

    A personal observation: We read much in the news about the bishop of Rome, but relatively little about other bishops. I trace the cause of this to the fact that popes devote too much time playing head of state, leaving too little time to shepherd the people of their own diocese. We must remember that Christ chose not to found His Church as a sovereign political state, but as leaven in the world. If the Church must have a central government, cannot some Vatican cleric be designated to handle the affairs of the Vatican State–meeting foreign dignitaries, signing papers, etc.–thereby allowing the bishop of Rome to shepherd his own people in peace? If I read Francis correctly, he wants to move in this very direction, that is, away from a top-down monarchical model, toward a greater emphasis on episcopal collegiality. God bless!

    • What a great, well-reasoned comment. Thank you. Recently, when having a similar discussion, someone pointed out to me that for the most part, it doesn’t really matter who the Pontiff is because he doesn’t greatly affect our everyday lives. It’s the local bishops who should be more vocal and I think that’s what you point out in your reply. I really like your suggestion to read the Catechism. Everything we need to know is all right there.

  5. The Catholic Peasant says:

    Beautifully written and poignant! I love the “What’s my line: The Pope Francis Edition”! I agree that we must stay focused on our own vocation and in practicing our faith as best we are able while the maelstrom of debate rages in social media. Thank you for a beautifully written reflection.

  6. abcinsc says:

    I am not a Catholic, but I have been a pastor in a mainline Protestant denomination for nearly 40 years. The bain of my pastoral life was trying to explain / interpret / spin (if you will) actions taken and comments made by denominational leadership with which I was fundamentally opposed. It was exhausting… and ultimately “fruitless and unprofitable. ” I feel your pain… I really do.

  7. dgcree says:

    Excellent advice !

  8. A beautiful and honest post, It is so frustrating the way Benedict and Francis are pitted against each other, in the media and in social media threads. I really love them both.,.

    I see Francis as helping those of us who want to do the right thing for Holy Mother Church to be strong in defending her teachings, not out of self-justification (as Melanie reminds, not as clanging gongs), but out of a love that overflows with the light of Christ

    I am very optimistic about Pope Francis, but I do not think that he will make us more comfortable as Catholics, he will challenge us to love more and more in a world that needs it more and more. He will challenge us to live and proclaim the Truth not out of self justification (which is always a danger – especially in response to some family members who see this Pope as a vindication of their political stances) but with the love of Christ which overflows with light, (which reminds me of a wonderful encyclical by Pope Benedict -Charity in Truth!) Which is why I love this post and all the comments, we need each other to keep our heads and hearts in their place don’t we?!

    • Yes, Heidi! Thank you, we do need each other. I picture this post as a family gathering around the Thanksgiving table (we just celebrated Thanksgiving here in Canada) discussing but not trying to change anyone’s way of thinking. Ultimately, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye, we all still clear the table, do the dishes, respect each other’s opinion and help each other out.

  9. Really beautiful and home-hitting blog…as usual. I feel that for myself I think just the same as you! God bless! And thanks again!

  10. says:

    I think you so underestimate this new pope….

    Sent from my iPad

  11. Nancy says:

    I just read the (excellent) post, and all of the comments… and you know what really stood out to me? Love. People loving God and one another. People really HEARING one another, being honest, humble, caring. Members of God’s family charitably working together to discern and to love. What a beautiful witness. I’m sitting right down at the family table. Would someone please pass the peas?

    • Thank you, Nancy. It’s a big family table and you are more than welcome. I think both Papa Francis and Papa Bene would be pleased. Here’s your peas but make sure you leave room for the pumpkin pie with whipped cream!

  12. Imelda says:

    I hear you. I am kind of scared to read what the press prints about interviews about him. Somehow, somewhere, there was a misinterpretation or something. I know a lot of fellow Catholics welcome his words and his presence (like he is the best thing/person to happen to the Church) but I often find myself worried about what he might say next. Would he suddenly seem to change in one statement all that the Church has been teaching all these ages? Be that as it may, he is our Pope and we are family. Somehow, God wanted Pope Francis to be there, may God’s will be done.

    • Oh, I know. I find that I approach interviews/news reports very carefully and have caught myself taking a deep breath before starting to read. May God’s will be done, indeed. Thanks, Imelda.

  13. reinkat says:

    Thanks for an honest post. Also appreciated are the many thoughtful comments in response. I really enjoyed all of it.
    I love this Pope, and loved Benedict as well. They were both needed by the church, one to make clear the teachings and laws, the other to show the love that Jesus showed to the poor, the misfit, and the disadvantaged. He also demonstrates humility with great effectiveness. He does this out of genuine commitment and sincerity, of that I am convinced.
    The media does take and spin the remarks that Pope Francis makes, but I take this much to heart: they can’t seem to find anything to criticize him about, and he has softened the hostility towards the church somewhat, opening doors for the rest of us to jump in and start spreading the Good News to all we meet.

  14. genericmum says:

    Great post, Terry, and very honest…The nicest thing I saw about Pope Francis was by Fr. Fessio. He really seems to understand where this new pope is coming from: He said that by Pope Francis saying (paraphrasing) that the world needs to speak less about contraception and abortion, he got THE WHOLE WORLD TALKING about the Catholic Church’s stance on those issues. People are beginning to converse about the Church, without constantly making references to pedophile priests. I feel like we have a type of the Trinity, as it were: the intellectual giant JPII, Kind and calm Benedictus and humble little Francis.

  15. momn3boys says:

    I love both Francis and Benedict. I think some people are confused (especially the media) because Francis’ personality and style are so different from his predecessor. I get the impression that people who didn’t really care for Church teaching tended to ignore and dismiss Benedict, partly because they didn’t want to hear what he had to say but also that he was perceived by some as old-fashioned and even stuffy. Now we have Francis, who is more charismatic and speaks more openly and isn’t afraid to break with tradition. People hear him say things like Jesus died to save everyone including atheists, and suddenly they’re saying, “see, it’s OK to be an Atheist because I’ll go to Heaven no matter what!” Same with abortion; many of us spend so much energy touting the evils of abortion (which we shouldn’t stop doing) that we forget to remind people of Christ’s profound love for them. Now all of a sudden they’re saying that Francis thinks abortion isn’t that big of a deal. Personally I think we’re spending too much time explaining away his remarks, because that makes us seem defensive and we end up arguing with each other about what he really means by this or that.

    At least now, people are paying attention to our Pope, and what he’s doing and saying. He has never said anything to contradict Church teaching, and I think people are finally starting to get that. The world is no longer dismissing the Church as some outdated institution and the Pope as its enforcer; they’re listening and watching and maybe soon they’ll start to see that there’s more to Catholicism than they think.

    • Thanks for your comment. Yes, that’s true. Pope Francis has certainly put the Catholic Church in the forefront for now. Many times we do sound defensive, don’t we? I just wish we could get past the arguing and calmly listen to each other. We all have something to bring to the table.

  16. Hi there…a really interesting topic. I felt a kind of ‘loneliness’ and a palpable sense of loss after watching Pope Emeritus fly from the Vatican. I was afraid. When Papa Francisco came out onto the balcony after his election, I was unsure of our new leader. In the days and weeks after this unexpected change in our Catholic family, his openness, honesty and love of Christ and Our Lady convinced me of his true nature. He speaks from the heart – a place of knowing and experience- and he speaks only of the Truth. He lives what he speaks as far as I can see. I think this is a blessing to our Church.

  17. becca says:

    I am in the middle…I try to be. But the Papal Idolaters really get to me. It’s like he can say or do no wrong and that’s just really irritating. He is not perfect, no Pope is, but you would think he already had a halo the way some people defend every single thing about him. It doesn’t help, it just makes the middle people and the negative people even more negative. He has said some stupid thing and there’s no way around that. I like a lot of things he says and does though. But, with most of these people, there is no middle ground with this Pope for whatever bizarre reason.

    “Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the Supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See. They destroy instead of strengthening its foundations.” ~ Found in George Weigel’s Biograph of Pope John Paul II ‘Witness to Hope’. Said by the great Dominican Theologian Melkior Kono of the Council of Trent.

    • Thanks, Becca, especially for the quote from Bl. John-Paul II. Like you, I don’t understand how we got to the point of what seems like idolatry in some cases and it’s not fait that anyone with a dissenting opinion has to tread very carefully or be silent.

  18. Monastic Pilgrim says:

    A generous opening post. I very much like Pope Francis, but I too sense the danger that people might think the Church changes as the Pontiff changes. It seems to me that with different Popes we see different facets of the Church, just as when people see each of us they see through just one very small window into a Church that is always so much bigger than any individual person (excepting out Lord, of course). The media perhaps see the Pope and the Church as direct images of each other, but I don’t think it has ever been thus; the Church is always much bigger than the Pope.

  19. quinersdiner says:

    I totally get your post. I was immediately “assaulted” by liberal Catholics who seem to think that the Pope has rewritten Catholic doctrine. Of course, he hasn’t. In fact, he has made some compelling points, encouraging us to focus on the big picture: our relationship with Christ. When people fall in love with Christ, issues such as Life fall into place. Let us trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Vicar of Christ. Thanks for writing this, I really appreciated it.

  20. You’re welcome. Thanks for your great comment, especially this observation: “When people fall in love with Christ, issues such as Life fall into place. Let us trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Vicar of Christ.” That pretty much says it all.

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