Perhaps its just me but ever since the election of Francis to the Papacy it seems like everyone, even faithful Catholics are complicit in creating an aura of rupture over the new papacy. Perhaps it should be expected that people are so fascinated with every little aspect of Francis’ ways that they forget that its really not about the person but the office. It was the same thing with JPII (and no I don’t say the great, let history decide that), people treated the papacy as a celebrity office, picking and choosing what they like to hear from him and propping up an image that is friendly to them, like that hes ecumenical because of the Assisi issue. Benedict was a known commodity unlike these two, so no honey moon existed. With Francis it is said that people are walking on egg shells around him (I would presume with what he says its probably like walking on egg shells when hes around traditionalists).
There have been many gestures and things that have been said in this short 3 months by the Holy Father that have often left us scratching our heads as to what he means by such. I think I am at the point that I want to compile some things I have noticed and give a quick take on them.
1. Forgoing of wearing the Mozetta and the red shoes. Just after he appeared as the new pope most people recognized that he was not wearing the traditional Mozetta and later on that he was not wearing the red shoes. Many in the media pointed to this immediately saying that surely this was a guarantee of ruptures to come, that finally the carnival was over as rumors put it, which were later refuted. Such clothing is often viewed as luxurious wear, trampling on the poor and their misery. Anyone can learn that the red is symbolic thing representing the blood of the martyrs which the Pope is to always prepare to also undergo. Many said that the shoes were from a prestigious maker that the rich and famous use, but the shoes were actually made by a local cobbler, so strike 2. Protestants came out saying that this was a good sign that he would forgoe such things, but as with everything else protestants have a hard time understanding the importance of symbols in the Christian life. Francis later said that he was keeping his black shoes because they were fairly
2. Just after the Pope was elected he made a couple statements that he hoped for a poor church and a church of the poor. Many people immediately jumped on the words and said finally a Pope focused on the poor and not just the Vatican’s wealth. I think its fair to say that the Pope is a Jesuit and very detached from worldly things including money and power. I remember hearing a story from Badger Catholic about Father John Hardon and his profound simplicity where he is said to only have had 2 pieces of clothing, 2 cassocks. Now I will note here that he did from time to time were pants, but still it was a detachment from the world and the concerns of the world that defined the late Fr. Hardon. So too Francis is not attached to the things of the world and people cannot put him in a box that that confuses a culture built on division. My initial thought on his statement of a poor church was a church detached from the things of the world that often keep us from being the evangels we are called to be. He later confirmed this thinking in one of his addresses in the Paul VI hall during a general audience. If we think for just a second it was the poor Catholic immigrants that came to this country that built the cathedrals by taking out 2nd mortgages, who had children, who were persecuted for the faith and yet persevered. They were detached from how the world saw them. Its not that they would not want to be American but they knew that they were to be in the world but not of it. Having a love for creation doesn’t mean you place it above the final goal of being with the creator of the creation. We are called to go against the grain, to be the light of the world. The poor who have made up the majority of Holy Mother Church were dependent on God and trusted him just as he told them to. The concerns of the world for riches and control distort the simple joy of trusting in him. I know not where I will get my food, my clothing or the respect I seek, I place that in his hands and I pray his will be done and he never disappoints. Even when things take a turn for the worse I remember Colossians 1:24 when Paul says Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
3. When Francis decided to not move into the Papal apartments it was generally hailed as another fantastic break from the church’s so called Traditions and represented the humble aspect of the new pontiff, a paradigm shift from the past. Supposedly it was said that he thought the apartment was too huge so he shunned to life. I want to point out a couple things. First no Pope since Leo XIII has occupied more than one level of the apartments. About a year or two ago the History Channel got permission to make a documentary about the Vatican including the Papal apartments. From what I remember the apartment that Benedict XVI occupied was not glittering, but very modest with a small TV and old furniture. After the announcement was made the Eponymous Flower posted an article really looking at the supposedly shunned apartments, which the Pontiff still uses for meetings by the way. You can find that great article here. Perhaps one of the things that need to be cleared up is the reason why he choose not to be in the Papal apartments, namely he doesn’t like being entangled in bureaucracy and he loves being around people. Benedict was a shy man and familiar with the way the Vatican Bureaucracy worked. The bureaucracy does act as a buffer, but it also prevents the pontiff from getting helpful information. For instance during the reign of Benedict XVI there were some in the Vatican who wished to see the Neocatecatical ways liturgy approved, and it was nearly approved until Raymond Cardinal Burke received a private audience with the Pope where he revealed the plot greatly saddening the Holy Father and eventually stopping the plan. Francis in staying at the guest house is able to step out of the bureaucracy and get to business on his terms without a million road blocks that hindered the previous pontificates.
4. A couple weeks ago the Holy Father made a statement about Atheist’s that was all of the sudden blown up by the media who claimed it meant Atheist’s were assured of Heaven. In fact the Pope made no such comment, he merely said that we can meet each other in doing good. Now before we delve into the issue that only Good can be done by those in Christ understand I agree, but we are talking about actual grace which is given to all and we can use this grace that God gives to the heathens to bring them closer to God. This whole thing reminds me of the former Pontiffs interview with Peter Seewald where he was asked whether it was a good thing that Male prostitutes use condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS. The Holy Father said that it was a move in a moral way that the person thinks of the others good when asking the question. However he didn’t say that it would be ok, just that it is a move in the right direction, not a saving one and still sinful. The moral of both stories is that the media is incompetent, and some are even downright evil in their distortion.
5. Another complaint is that the Holy Father only rarely refers to himself as the Pope. Many see this as a shift of emphasis that he rejects the office. This, however, is a mistake. It is true that he much prefers at least publicly to be refereed to as the Bishop of Rome, but in doing so he doesn’t reject any other title afforded to the Supreme Pontiff. For instance I can think of a number of times he references himself as the Pope so its not like it escapes him. Rather in continuity with Benedict I think he is really trying hard to bring the Orthodox back in Communion with the Holy See and one of the ways to create the trust is to use familiar terms that both “lungs” share. Specifically speaking Ignatius of Antioch refers to the Bishop of Rome who over sees the church in charity, so it’s a common link. So too before he was elected as a pope he was asked his opinion on titles. He did not reject that titles should be used but he did say that when one has to use titles over and over again to demand they recognize his authority he has already lost that authority. So when people say that he is breaking the Tradition’s you can recognize that they are removing themselves from reality. The Pope does not wish to hold himself up as a man against all others, but as the Servant of Servants correcting those dissenting from the faith in all charity. Therefore don’t make a big deal of which title he prefers all of the titles are valid and it is up to the Pope how he wishes to wield his authority in the church.
6. This love of the poor is often referenced by those in the church (or out of it for that matter) who seek to set up Francis against the previous pontificates. This is yet another media blitz to control the conversation and create false distinctions that only serve to confuse and divide the faithful. All Pontiffs even the bad ones loved the poor to some degree or another. Benedict didn't see his being a Pope in every sense as being opposed to loving the poor. For instance in 2010 he was given a gift of a $2500 truffle, he immediately had it delivered to a soup kitchen for their use. Living in the Vatican or living in the streets makes no difference in the end, and it shouldn't be used to condemn either. St. Louie IX was a King, living with all the indulgences due his honor, yet his Love for the Lord humbled him to be a Christian King taking care of the poor and the widows while defending the country he was entrusted to.
7. A confusion of humility with simplicity, is perhaps the greatest confusion that is permitted by quite a few out there. Even Catholic media sources allow this to propagate. When people see that he doesn't wear the red items, or that he doesn't use a golden pectoral cross or lives in the guest house and not the papal apartments they say isn't that humble? Hes rejecting material goods, he’s so humble. Such thinking is Jansinist. Its not humble to reject the traditions that are developments of the office. It might indeed be simplistic, but its not humble. Imagine if a King existed that when asked to give its people hope in leading his people into battle instead appoints another to take his place so that he may maintain his comfortable existence. It is the same with Francis he might well feel uncomfortable with the so called “trappings” and tempted if he were to adhere to the Traditions that are part of the development of the office. This is not an exclusive feeling toward the papacy. Fulton Sheen and even Pius X were uncomfortable in the office with all of its traditions, yet they submitted themselves humbly accepting the office and all that came with it. Perhaps when Francis is convinced that he will not be tempted by such aspects he will be more open to giving himself over to the office completely.
Let Us always pray for the Holy Father in his most difficult work in the Vineyard. So too continue in praying for all the clergy and religious, for their battle with the diabolical is unceasing! Oh and by the way I dont think Francis really cares about the issues most Traditionalists do, thats going to have to be a grass roots effort