By Tim Rohr
Like most, I had no idea who Cardinal Bergoglio was, and still know very little. Of course, it doesn’t really matter. He’s pope. And where he came from and what he did may have much or little to do with where he goes and what he does as pope. The “spirit blows where it will” (John 3:8).
To be frank, I paid very little attention to the interregnum and the election and am only glancing at the post-election news. I don’t know about you but I am so nauseatingly tired of the media cackle about whether the new pope will open up the church to contraception, same-sex marriage, women priests, etc, etc. etc. (Yawn.)
The pope can do no such thing and he won’t. End of story. So I just stay away from the news and only glance at stories where the new pope himself has spoken – and so far (not that it matters) I like what I hear.
I like that he has already stood up to both secular and religious powers and was willing to pay the price for doing so. During the debate leading up to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Argentina, he called same-sex marriage a “‘move’ of the Father of Lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God” and a “destructive attack on God’s plan.” Contrast that with the New York bishops who chose to “keep our powder dry” (their own words) – saying next to nothing while same-sex marriage was legalized in their state.
It is also significant that in opposing same-sex marriage he had the pastoral presence of mind to distinguish the civil recognition of same-sex marriage, which legislatively impacts the whole of society, and private homosexual unions, which do not.
He also called adoptions by same-sex couples “discrimination against the child” who deserves both a mother and a father. He has called abortion what it is – murder, and he has demanded “eucharistic coherence” – which would exclude from receiving the Eucharist those who live and speak outside the commandments (e.g. pro-abortion politicians). Contrast that with the flat refusal by the cardinal-archbishop of Washington D.C. to deny holy Communion to Catholic pro-abortion politicians.
But there are also some things I find disturbing, not about the new pope, but about how he is being rushed to be perceived. Much is being made of his humility, which is comically antithetical. Many are lauding the fact that he “doesn’t act like a pope.” This is dangerous stuff. To say such things is to demean the behavior of his predecessors. So Benedict didn’t take the bus – are we then to consider him less a pope, less humble, less concerned for our salvation?
Upon his being announced as pope, Francis shunned the usual vestments for the occasion appearing only in his papal “whites.” And, rather than uttering an urbi et orbi-like phrase (e.g. John Paul II’s “Be not afraid”), he opted for a quiet “buona sera” (good evening). He also bowed low and asked for the people’s blessing before giving his.
True, these are humble gestures, but the rush to contrast Francis with his immediate predecessor – who opted for a more traditional presentation, even by Catholic commentators, is disconcerting, trite, and even suspicious.
In fact, allowing oneself to be served and reverenced requires an even greater humility. In the new pope’s case, there is no doubt that his gestures are not “gestures,” but manifest signs of who he really is as a priest from the third world. But he is now more than that. And while he is no longer “Jorge” he is NOT just “Francis,” he is PETER.
In truth, if we believe that the Spirit guides the church, especially in the elections of its vicars, then we must accept that, in dignity, no pope trumps another in terms of a socially assigned “wow” factor. We have who we have. Benedicamus Domino and knock off the comparisons.
Then there is his choice of name. “Francis” is perhaps the most dangerous name in all Catholicism because it has oft been usurped to serve the most ridiculous myths – especially the delusional modern folkloric incarnation of Francis as a medieval tree-hugging, flower sniffing hippie who flitted about the Italian countryside preaching to birds and worshiping the sun and moon.
As is the case of most great men, the man is always greater than the myth. And though the new pope calls Francis a “man of peace,” in truth, Francis was a war-monger – a war-monger who waged a fanatical war against sin and every possible occasion of it.
Upon the occasion of his canonization, Pope Gregory IX compared Francis to Samson, who, seizing the jawbone of an ass, “shattered the fetters of a flattering world.” May the first pope to bear his name do likewise.
Tim Rohr leads a Catholic Study Group which meets Monday evenings, 6 p.m., at the Cathedral Gift Shop. He can be found online at www.themassneverends.com and “friended” at facebook.com/timrohr.guam. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff & management of the U Matuna Si Yu’os.