Saturday, March 30, 2013

Approaching Change and Fear: Thoughts on Our New Pope

This post has been slowly forming in my head these past few days, and yet, to be honest, I have no idea what I'm going to say.  Like many of you, I've found a strangeness and difficulty as I've fumbled through Holy Week this year, and I best work through my thoughts by writing them out.  Hopefully I won't offend everyone too horribly.  Remember, I'm just working through this too, in my own way.  Now I can't guarantee you'll get anything worthwhile out of them, but I guess that's a risk with any blog post.  So... here goes...

When I was little, my mom would warn me about changes to my schedule in the upcoming week, because apparently something like "Hey, let's go to the bank today!" on such short notice, would send my little world spinning off kilter.  It was much easier to say: "We're going to the bank tomorrow morning!" which for some reason was not upsetting, since I had time to process and think about the change.  So apparently my innate "not a huge fan of change" traits stretch way, way back.

Of course, we had quite a lot of warning that change was coming, when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (that's a mouthful, but it's what he officially is called right?  Plain ol' Benedict just doesn't quite seem respectful enough...) announced that he was abdicating and I rushed around the house talking about it to anyone who would listen (namely Paul, when he was home and the Four Year Old, when he wasn't).  I wasn't upset or anxious.  Just sorrowful.  It was something we'd known would likely happen soon, as he appeared ever more frail in each new image broadcast over the media... but I hadn't wanted it to happen just yet.

Give us a little longer, I wished.  Eight years wasn't enough (funny how with one leader it goes by like that and with others it can drag on.  and on.  and on.).

Still, I was excited for the conclave and held my breath alongside the rest of the world to see who would step out onto the balcony and celebrate in our little toy cluttered living room in the middle of the day as we waited to receive the new Pope's blessing.

I'll admit, I felt a catch in my throat when they said that he was a Jesuit.  I thought back to our time while Paul was in a Jesuit theology program and had to rally my flagging enthusiasm by rushing over to the computer the first chance I had and reading about our brave new leader, the man chosen by the College of Cardinals to be our next Pope.  And what I read reassured me greatly.

In the days that followed I found myself surprised that I wasn't instantly entirely joyous about the announcement of our new pontiff.  I don't know why I'd expected the sadness of missing our last Pope to completely disappear, but I guess in hindsight, I did.

"And had I instantly felt affection for Benedict?" I found myself asking (because in my thoughts he is just plain Benedict).  I remember feeling defensive of him very early in my journey towards Catholicism, but I couldn't remember that moment when I actually became emotionally invested in this man who was to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit and guide the Church through our darkened world.

Then the attacks started, and of course, they didn't come from the quarter that I expected.  This is scary, I've been told.  He's changing everything, I hear.  Wait, there were puppets?  I read the words, not clicking on the link.  It's hard not to feel anxious when it seems that quite a few people who you generally relate well with are all panicking.

But I've been determined.  "Let nothing alarm you."  I've repeated in my head.  It is Holy Week.  The devil would love to see us up in arms.  He would love to have us at one another's throats.  And what do we know really?  What have we seen from this gentle man?  His affection for his brothers and sisters?  His compassion for the poor? His simplicity?

I watch him on the news and I find myself annoyed, not by his beautiful actions of loving kindness, but at the reporters' analysis.  I feel the sting of their condescending comparison to the retired Pope who I still feel such affection for.   My heart aches.  But is that ache from anything that the Pope has actually done?  No, it isn't.

Watching CNN there were multiple references to the Pope's PR moves, as if the baby kissing, and wading into crowds and foot washing were just publicity stunts.  It shouldn't surprise us that the world would immediately suspect something of that sort.  But shouldn't we at the very, very, very least, give this man who is our shepherd the benefit of the doubt as to his motivations and accept that he is doing this because he loves God and expresses that love by loving the whole of God's creation?

I've been challenging every sad rebellious thought this week by reminding myself what the Pope has actually done and then my following it up by reminding myself that I'm Catholic and I'm not the Pope.

He is the Pope.  His personal style doesn't match my own.  But it doesn't have to.  I'm not the Holy Spirit.  And let me say it again:  He is the Pope.  He is the successor of Saint Peter.  And I'll say it again: I think that we should at the very, very least start out giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Does that mean that everything he does will be right or perfect?  Of course not.  He's a man. He's not speaking infallibly all the time, or even most of the time (or even ever for all that that has been used).  But he is the Pope.  And he deserves our respect.  More than that, I think he deserves that we listen and watch and try not to run around like a bunch of chickens with our heads cut off.

So let's take a deep breath.  Let's stop attacking each other.

My heart feels as if it's dropping into a bottomless pit, not because of Pope Francis' actions this week, but because how I've seen us talk to each other.  I've seen people attack the Pope.  I've seen others respond, calling anyone who's afraid of what's going on "Protestant."  And I recoil at that because, while I'm resisting the fear I've felt (remember, I'm not the biggest fan of change!), I can certainly understand why others around me are feeling it.

The devil is doing his work well as we approach Easter, sowing dissent during this time when our eyes should be fixed on the cross, and ultimately, the empty tomb that tells us that He is Risen!

If I'm honest, I have to admit that I am learning from Pope Francis already, in a painful, heart stretching sort of way (is growing ever comfortable?).  For as I've heard terms like lace-loving-Protestant used and thought "no, no, they're just afraid," I've begun to think more and more about those "Cafeteria Catholics" and have felt a greater compassion for what they might be afraid of these past years.

Yes, the truth is the truth.  It doesn't mean that I agree with them in the least on what is right and what is wrong.  But I think I understand a little more what it means to be afraid by someone who's practice of faith is so visibly different from our own, especially when they were raised in a time when many said "oh no, that's not a sin..." and twisted falsehoods until they almost looked like truth.

Let us all step back, in these last hours before the holiest day of the year, and be gentler with one another.  Let's give this man, who the College of Cardinals trusted enough to elect to lead us, the benefit of the doubt, rather than letting our thoughts run wild with "what I think" this act that he has done might mean.  And let us pray that God gives Pope Francis the strength to lift the heavy load that he has taken upon his shoulders, so that he may guide us through the years that are to come.  It cannot be easy to bear that responsibility, and let us not add to his burden by disparaging him, or indulging in anger.  It is nearly Easter, after all.  Christ has died for our sin.  We wake to find that he has defeated death and that his promise is that we are to be resurrected with him.  Let us turn aside from the anger and strife of this world and love with our whole hearts.  Let us strive that through his grace working in our lives , we might be made worthy of his sacrifice.


  1. Terrific, heartfelt post!

    I always felt a little sorry for Benedict, as I think that being Pope was the last thing he wanted; he really wanted to study and write in his final years. However, the Holy Spirit moved the cardinals to choose him, and I think that he served as a symbol of obedience, and displayed great dignity.

    I think that the Holy Spirit moves the cardinals to give us the type of Pope that we need at any particular time; I think that, given recent disturbing history, the Holy Spirit felt that we most needed a Shepherd who was possessed of great, deep, and genuine humility, and that is exactly what we have received.

    It has alarmed me that so many people have reacted to negatively to this; it shows that all of us are very wedded to our personal preferences and prejudices and those are difficult things to get past.

    This "honeymoon period" that Pope Francis is enjoying with the mainstream media now won't last; just wait until he affirms traditional marriage or states that there will, indeed, be no ordination of women.

    A blessed, holy Easter to all!


  2. Thanks for a well thought out post, Cam. All I can say to your words is "ditto."

    I just posted my own thoughts on this week and crosses and change. It is so hard, even when we know, in faith, all will be well. We so much want to interject ourselves into the conversation: "Well, I think ..." But much of what is happening will happen regardless of what we think.

    His will be done; His glory be forever. And may we, and our loved ones, be with Him.

  3. Well said. Yes, there are things that Pope Francis has done that are worrying to me, but I keep reminding myself that my job is to trust God, not micromanage the Pope!

  4. I am really surprised to see so many good Catholics upset over this Holy man. You are absolutely right. He style is different and there is a good reason-he's from Argentina and the previous popes were from Poland and Germany! Cultural differences aside, it is shameful the way people are criticizing him over nothing- they are style differences at best.
    Lord have mercy!


    p.s. I think I read something about him being kicked out or sent away from the Jesuit community because he was too orthodox. This is a holy man, let's not doubt him anymore. All saints are different, why can't Popes. I can just imagine what the current rant would have to say about St. Peter when he was pope.

  5. He reminds me of Christ who shattered the image of the Messiah. Pope Francis is changing the image of the Pope. Just like the disciples struggled particularly St. Peter I think it is a struggle to see the Papacy change. I'm sure it was that way with jp2 but I don't remember.

  6. The weight of all that snow up there must be pressing down on your mood. :) There is a very simple solution to help with all the negativity and media hype. Turn it OFF! Yes, don't pay attention to it. At the very least, don't actively seek it out. It's much like I tell young kids when they are being annoyed by someone... "just ignore them". If the TLMs are annoying you over washing women's feet..."just ignore them", they don't deserve the satisfaction of tempting you into sinful anger. Likewise, if the NOs annoy you because we still do not have women priests, "just ignore them", they don't deserve your attention either.

    Now then, if you do not actively seek out the noise around you and you pray that God will allow into your life what He Wills, then surely what comes your way is intended for your response.

    Here's hoping you all have a blessed Easter!

  7. As a non-Catholic who has been fascinated by this process and who finds the new Pope's style refreshing, could someone enlighten me about what people are saying that's negative about him? Isn't it, as Cam says, way too soon to go there?---Lucy

  8. I believe the Holy Spirit gives us the Pope we need at he time we need him. And, I do believe the our world needs THIS Pope now. I love Pope Francis. I love his humility and simplicity, and his style does mesh with "mine." I believe the Catholic church is big enough to hold people who prefer different "styles" as "style" really has nothing to do with orthodoxy and there is no doubt that Pope Francis is orthodox. His simplicity and humility really resonates with a lot of people and I do believe that many will be drawn back to the church because of his actions.

  9. Hi Lucy,

    A lot of it has to do with how informal (or simple) he is. First people were upset when he didn't wear his stole (is that what it's called? I'm making dinner and can't run and look it up. It's the red drap-y thing that would go around his shoulders) when he came out on the balcony. The latest was that he washed women's feet on Thursday, because many of us have had that explained as an apostolic thing related to the priesthood, which is only done to men (although the explanation I found said it varied from diocese to diocese in Rome's response to that question from a bishop years ago). Stuff like that, which probably make us sound a little crazy to non-Catholics when they hear we're getting all riled up over it!

    (And someone else will likely come along and give a better explanation!)

  10. Interesting post Cam. I think you really hit on something when you talk about missing BXVI. Because the styles are so different, it appears that in peoples rush to discuss Francis they are disparaging BXVI. (As if Benedict's humility was ever less than Francis' their humility just expresses itself differently. Benedict's was such that he lost himself in the office and obediance, where Francis' is such that he continues to act as if he does not hold such "power.)"
    Many of us still have such affection for Benedict we don't like it when people start disparaging him. Some of that fear of change, of the unknown, and the fact that we are defensive of Benedict and "angry" at those who would make such remarks, I think, has caused people to project these feelings on Francis. (Instead of where is belongs on the commentators, and the people who believe them). There is really nothing to be really upset about either Pope. (Benedict went to that same correctional facility that Francis went to for Holy Thursday). However, people still feel that way. My own Father in Law, is excited about this pope, because he thinks the "leadership" (meaning the previous pope and bishops) are corrupt and out of touch. What can you do with that, it is not an opinion based on facts. But emotions based on mere externals, on how someone looks the the 20 minutes they have seen them, while in the public eye.

    I pray for Pope Francis, that he will be able to accomplish great things in his pontificate.

  11. Thank you. I do have reservations about Pope Francis and still do not feel a connection to him at all. However, that doesn't make me a Protestant.

  12. I really liked Pope Benedict so I was a bit wary of a new Pope, but so far what I've seen of Pope Francis I like of him. But I think it will take time for everyone to sort out their feelings.

  13. I think Pope Francis is going to make Americans in particular a little uncomfortable and that's a good and much needed thing. We really do tend to think the world revolves around us and our way of thinking and doing, and we need some schooling in that department.


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