Thursday, 26 September 2013

Not that scary

The Francis Libby created in her own image seems not to bear much resemblance to the real Pope
 When I heard Cardinal Tauron announce the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy, I'd never heard of him. I called up his wikipedia page and saw "SJ" and saw that he was ordained in 1969. Having been born in the 90s, this scared me. Slowly I've become less and less worried about him. He's a Catholic.

I read an article by Libby Purves in The Times this week which seemed to me not really to be representative of Pope Francis. It showed, in part, a pope of whom I would be scared and in part just an ignorance of who and what Pope Francis is. If it was a Pope Francis that existed in real life then I think I might have had good reason to be scared.

The first and obvious fault of hers was to suggest some sort of dichotomy between Benedict XVI and Francis. I don't mean this in a inflicting-one's-own-opinions-upon-Benedict-and-then-onto-Francis kind of Fr Z way, but rather that she seemed to present a picture of Benedict which would have opposed Francis had it actually ever existed in the real world. She described him as "a rigid German", conjuring the media myth of the jackbook wearing rottweiler with an obsession with regulations and imposing it on the cuddly professor from Regensburg and then proceded to make a list of misrepresentations of both. The first on her list was inevitably homosexuality. Francis has yet to say anything about homosexuality. He has spoken about the innate value of people who are homosexual and that's a very different kettle of fish, though he seems to have caught them in the same pond as Benedict who said "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church's pastors wherever it occurs". Then came the role of women in the Church ("It is theologically and anthropologically important for woman to be at the center of Christianity"... said Benedict XVI).

The next bit brought a snort from deep within the walls of Lazarus College. She described Catholicism as "legalistic, literal, authoritarian fundamentalism". My suspicion is that she just thought up some epithets commonly applied to religion without giving too much thought to which ones she used. Some people within the Church are certainly guilty of all three, but the idea that the Church advocates that or that it's common would be tricky to defend. Legalistic in the sense that we have laws which are applied, yes. But they tend to be about things like clergy fiddling the books or the altar boys. As it goes, I'm quite keen to keep those laws. We have laws about clergy not misleading their people too: an australain priest was defrocked and excommunicated by Pope Francis recently for teaching contrary to the Church. This is I suspect what she is getting at, but she needs to remember what the role of a priest is. He is there to pass on faithfully what the Church says. He may have a myriad of personal opinions, but he ought to have the humility to know that his opinions are not what his parisioners need from their priest. They can get whacky notions from reading The Tablet. It takes a fairly extreme situation, like the one in Australia, for the legal mechanisms of the Church to be put into actions. As for the importance of observing Catholic practices, which is the other thing I think she's getting at, maybe asking why they are there would be good before discarding them without a thought. She gives the example of "no-meat Fridays, not joining the Freemasons, Sunday Mass and Holydays of Obligation". These aren't ends in themselves, they're a way of improving and protecting our relationship with God. We don't think for a moment we can understand God with these rules, but they create an environment in which we can start to meet Him.

I remember when Pope Benedict was elected in 2005. He didn't know how to be pope. He'd never wanted to be one and never expected to be so had not prepared for it. The obvious example is that of the Regensburg address when he was just an excited professor who'd found an amazing quotation from a historical source. With Benedict it was easier because he wasn't trying to reform the curia so let them reign him in a bit. Francis needs to get some heads rolling, so can't take the chance of letting any of them control him. It's a tricky situation, I could never do it as well as he seems to be doing it, so I'll keep him in my prayers and take him as an example of Christian living.

Pope Francis is a Jesuit through and through. In one or two respect he even shows what generation of Jesuit he is, but you can tell a lot about a man from his enemies. In the past that's meant other South American Jesuits. Today it means the curia. That speaks volumes.

As an aside, I think we'll see Pope Francis helping greatly with the vocations shortage we're experiencing. I think that it's easy to make sacrifices for a person but that it's hard to make sacrifices for an idea. For so long as we make Catholicism a cerebral exercise, as is so tempting with a religion founded on logic, we create an idea. When we realise that actually it's all about a person and the relationship we have with Him, it suddenly becomes a lot easier. In the situations where the relationship with the Lord draws a person towards His priesthood, then I suspect it will be easier for men to make the sacrifices necessary when the bloke in the white cassock is so obviously not viewing his faith in terms of intellectualism but in terms of that same relationship. We'd be lost without the intellectuals because we need true doctrine, but we'd have no idea where we were at all is we became disconnected from the fundamental reality of our faith which is that God is alive and with us.

By Damian

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