The pope gave an interview on a plane yesterday. I laughed as much as the next Catholic gal when this meme popped into my news feed:
It’s funny because it’s true! When Pope Francis speaks off-the-cuff with journalists, we get some interesting (okay, fine: confusing) headlines. Faithful Catholics everywhere scramble to figure out what exactly he did say and how exactly it squares with Church teaching.
I get it when the secular media misunderstands the pope. I mean, it’s practically in their job description, right? But Catholics, please. Can we all simmer down and stop worrying that the Church is going to hell in a handbasket? I don’t mean to be hyperbolic; I saw several variations on this theme from faithful Catholic writers yesterday and frankly, it was disturbing.
Look, so you don’t like Pope Francis. That’s fine. So you’re uncomfortable with his leadership style. Also, fine. No one ever said we need to love our pope, at least not in the hearts-and-flowers way. No one ever said the pope was perfect, either. There have been some prickly popes, some sinful ones, some mediocre ones. It’s perfectly fine to have favorites and least-favorites.
The reason it’s fine is because our trust isn’t placed in a man, but rather in the Holy Spirit who guides him in his role as our father. It isn’t okay then for Catholics to malign the pope, to willfully misunderstand him, or to spread gossip that he is leading this Church into error. That would be mistrust of the Holy Spirit, and that’s a no-no.
Here are three reasons to reconsider posting articles that are overtly critical of the pope:
1) Complaining about our pope makes Catholics look petty, and it fosters disunity and distrust in the Church. It’s one thing to ask our leaders for guidance and clarification, it’s another thing entirely for those of us with keyboards and internet connections to share our frustration with those who look to us for clarification.
Complaining also gives the impression that we only need to give authority to people we like who say the things we like to hear, which is not what the Church teaches.
2) There are two types of people who challenge popes: humble and holy people like St Catherine of Siena and rather more rebellious people like Martin Luther. If you’re concerned with the way Pope Francis is handling things, by all means, send him a letter. Contact your parish priest, your spiritual director, or even your bishop for guidance on how to handle it. But nailing your own personal 95 theses to a blog post is a recipe for rebellion and division, not renewal and unity. Be like St Catherine, not like Martin.
3) Most importantly, you either believe the Holy Spirit is guiding our Church, or you don’t. You either believe that the Holy Spirit has a plan for Pope Francis at this time and in this place, or you don’t believe it about any pope, ever. It’s simply not Catholic to believe in apostolic succession until there’s a pope you don’t really care for much. That’s not how the Holy Spirit works.
We’ve established that it’s not necessary to like Pope Francis, but that Catholics still need to give respect to the Vicar of Christ. It’s my opinion that articles/blog posts that imply (or outright say) that he’s just another nuisance and oh my goodness would someone please shut him up, are no better than the secular media, no better than a secular world who hears only what it wants and tosses the rest rather than parsing through it to understand more deeply.
In the spirit of optimism, I’ve made a list of alternate activities Catholics might consider if you really feel like another interview from Pope Francis is going to make your head explode.
- Go to the source. Get the real news from the Vatican.
- Look for bloggers/journalists who consistently take their time to explain what the pope says in light of Church teaching. Jimmy Akin and Mama Needs Coffee are two that come to mind. Share others in the comment box!
- If a blog post begins with “here we go again” or “Pope Francis is about to change Church teaching,” click away, especially if you’re tempted to read it.
Take the opportunity to gently and charitably share with others around you what the Church teaches on controversial subjects. We are all a part of the New Evangelization, after all.
St. Josemaria Escriva says: “Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.'” Meditate on this.
St. Teresa of Avila says: “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, all things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things, whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.” Meditate on this.
Pray for our current pope.
Pray for our world hellbent on misunderstanding him.
Pray for the souls of popes who have passed.
Pray for our future popes.
Pray for those outside the Church who struggle to understand and trust the Church.
Pray for our fallen away brothers and sisters.
Go to confession.
Go to Mass and meditate on the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord.
Go to Eucharistic Adoration. Meditate as above.
Thank God for the apostolic succession that allows you to receive Him in the Eucharistic weekly/daily.
Read the catechism. It’s free at the USCCB website.
Read the Bible.
Get off the computer entirely.
Spend time with your family.
- Practice the Corporal Works of Mercy
- Practice the Spiritual Works of Mercy
- Pray for people who are poor or disabled, whom our Papa loves so dearly.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to help you trust.
Do not lose patience with Pope Francis, but pray that he continues his unfailing witness of love and mercy. Do your part to spread the good news of the Gospel and the truths within our dogmas. Foster Christian unity and a real understanding of the treasures our Church holds.
Avoid malice and despair at all costs, and above all trust the Holy Spirit.