In my family, we have been talking a bit about the new Pope. He has been doing and saying some interesting things -- things that piss some people off, that make others happy, that mystify many. He seems to be going in some new directions. For example, he washed the feet of women when he was first elected, breaking with tradition. He spoke of how atheists can go to Heaven. He said that gay people must not be marginalized, and even seemed to accept the idea of gay men being ordained to the priesthood. And these things make a lot of folks wonder what he is up to.
This is what I think.
First of all, I don't think he is doing anything that is out-of-step with Church teaching, if you really read the Catechism (and the New Testament).
What I think he is doing is reminding us of the true spirit of Christianity, of how Christ actually behaved -- things that some in the Church seem to have forgotten. Why have they forgotten it? The last couple of Popes, who I also truly loved, saw a Church that had begun to lose a lot of its tradition -- in the liturgy, in religious orders, in moral and social teachings, for example. These Popes, of happy memory, reminded us of those things, which was very good. But, in so doing, a division started to creep into the Church, a division which had probably always been there, but which became exacerbated. What division? The division between the more conservative Catholics and the more liberal Catholics. It is almost like these two groups don't even accept each other as true Catholics; there is a lot of looking down the nose at one group by the other. My husband, for example, told me that he heard a rather conservative Catholic commentator describe people "who are in the pews, but not in the Church." EXCUSE ME??? If your fellow baptized Catholic is sitting next to you in the pews, and has not been excommunicated by the Pope, you really shouldn't be talking that way about him. Or her. And even if he/she is excommunicated, he/she is still a baptized Catholic. On the other side of the coin, I once told a more liberal Catholic that I really love the Latin Mass and she acted like I had said the "black mass." There has also been more and more talk about a "Culture War." There has been much feeling amongst Catholics who view themselves as following the right path that they cannot work with, socialize with, live in the same neighborhoods as, or even pleasantly get along with people of differing points of view or of different lifestyles, because they are afraid of compromising their faith. And because they feel uncomfortable around these different types of people.
I think Pope Francis sees these things. And he sees the way the Church blew it in regard to priestly abuse. And he sees the other ways in which the Church has made various groups of people -- like women and homosexuals -- feel marginalized. In short, he sees the many sins and shortcomings of the Church and its clergy and its people. And he is trying to lead us forward. If we look at his example, if we truly and prayerfully look at it, I believe that we can begin to heal the rifts in the Church, we can help people to see how Jesus truly does love and accept them right where they are, and we can end the Culture War. Because even though we need to have societal discussions about many issues, a "war" probably isn't the best way to go about things. It will just leave the "defeated" feeling rebellious and plotting their uprising, while the "victors" go about gloating and maybe even oppressing. Which is what victors in a war tend to do, albeit (perhaps) unintentionally.
Yes, I think Pope Francis, with God's help, can bring many good things about in the Church. He seems to have great faith, he seems to be a man of genuine humility, and -- last, but not least -- he is the first Pope in a long time that regular people can actually understand. ;-)