About a month ago, I was called a “Francis-Deacon” by a website for the absurdity of saying we should care enough about others to wear a mask in this pandemic. Upon seeing this, I immediately contacted a buddy of mine letting him know that after five decades, I had finally earned some “Liberal” credentials. I feel more balanced now. Another buddy from grad school once told me that I am” to the right of Attila the Hun” in most things.
Interestingly, if one does not espouse the ideals of this website, you are deemed a “Francis-Bishop,” “Francis-Priest” or “Francis-Deacon” depending on your clerical status. Thinking about this, if I am going to be aligned with someone, with great joy I have been aligned with the Vicar of Christ. I was overjoyed at being “insulted” for promoting the Gospel. Not really wanting to be a martyr at this point in my life, I’ll take the merit badge of people trying to insult me for preaching the Gospel. I cannot really say I was insulted. I am honored to be designated in the same manner Bishop Robert Barron has been on that site as well.
When Francis was elected Pope, we saw the media embrace his papacy in a way that I do not recall ever witnessing. This was good and bad. Good, in that the Pope was headlining the news. Bad, for the embracement was not on what Francis actually said, but on what people wanted to hear. He was different. He made us think. Yet, in all this he has not largely veered from the teachings of St. John Paul the Great nor Pope Benedict XVI as much as he has presented these teaching in a new way. He makes us think. As Francis Cardinal George said, “He (Pope Francis) says wonderful things, but he doesn’t put them together all the time, so you’re left at times puzzling over what his intention is.” Cardinal George also said “I’d like to sit down with him and say, Holy Father, first of all, thank you for letting me retire. And could I ask you a few questions about your intentions?”
It seems Pope Francis is being used more than studied. Our friends on the left manipulate his messages without understanding the context in which he pronounces them. Our friends on the right challenge his intentions before studying the message itself. As a Catholic, I was taught that the Holy Spirit guides the Church. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected at the time in history that the Spirit wanted him to be Pope. This is not debatable in the Catholic faith. Francis is our Vicar of Christ on earth. If he “holds the keys” given to Peter, I must defer to him as I would defer to Peter himself.
A non-Catholic friend once told me that I have to believe that Francis is “always right.” I told this friend that he had a confused notion of papal infallibility. Francis can only be infallible if speaking ex cathedra in defining a doctrine of Christian faith or morals. Pope Francis can be wrong in his personal opinions. He can make an accounting error when balancing his checkbook… His encyclicals should be taken seriously as valid commentary on Church teachings but, are not “ex cathedra.” This “full authority of office” has only been used twice in the 2000 year history of the Church: (1) in 1854 by Pius IX when defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin and (2) in 1950 by Pius XII, in defining the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.
In this media driven world we do witness people challenging the Pope through requests to the College of Bishops or the dubia process used by four Cardinals a few years ago. While I do think the bishops should be in conversation with the Pope, doing so publicly seems to be serving agendas other than fraternal discussion.
Francis, like all clerics, gets held to very high standards. We forget too often that the very standards they are being held to are ones we should be addressing ourselves. Should our clerics be faithful and holy? Yes, and so should we. Should our clerics witness and proclaim the teachings of Jesus with their lives? Yes, and by virtue of our baptism so should we. McCarrick messed up and fell to evils of the flesh and vanity. Thankfully, I have not gone to his extreme but, I cannot throw that stone either. Some respond to this notion saying, “but I am not a priest.” It does not matter. By virtue of our baptism we were all anointed priest, prophet, and king. We all share in the priesthood of Jesus.
In all honesty, for most of my life I have been aligned with those like the website that calls people they disagree with “Francis-cleric.” Orthodoxy is a strength of the Church. Yet, while Jesus surely held to the teachings of Scripture, he did not simply preach the rules. Jesus preached the radical love of God. In reading this website with new lenses I still see the orthodoxy but, I do not see the love. For too long many of us preached the faith and forgot the love. We tend to “love God” while neglecting our neighbor. Jesus reminded us that it does not work that way. He approached the “woman and the well” with respect and love. He told her to “sin no more,” not calling her a “Francis-Wellwater Lady”… Jesus dealt with the woman caught in adultery in a pastoral manner, not by throwing his own rocks at her.
As I get older, I have learned that love speaks louder than shouting. I love dogmatic theology. But, walking with people on their journey draws them to Christ more effectively than shouting dogma. God meets people where they are at. How can we do less? I guess such teaching makes Ignatius of Loyola a “Francis-saint?”
We all need to stop being Pharisees and take some time to speak to the Holy Spirit and discern if all this “left and right” nonsense that is plaguing our society is what the Spirit has in mind for the Church. I know that when I label people myself I stop seeing the person and only react to the label. This pandemic has become too much about resisting Caesar at the expense of loving our neighbor. Years ago, the south-sider in me would say “Bring it” for our discussion. The Francis-Deacon in me says “thank you.” I will proudly take your insults for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May we all start living the standards that we keep holding others up to.