A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Some Thoughts about the Papacy of Pope Francis

by Sue Jones

by Sue Jones

At Mass on Pentecost Sunday Father preached about the Holy Spirit’s power to unite us as a universal Church. He said we had a letter from the Pope asking us to pray with him on this day for peace in the Holy Land. I had seen on the television news that the Pope had invited leaders from that part of the world into his home, the Vatican, to pray with him for peace in their land. There were to be many languages spoken in this time of prayer and meditation but Father said that the Holy Spirit would see to it that all would be well and all would understand.

I marvelled at modern technology that we in Wairoa, far removed in miles from Rome, can be part of Pope Francis’s spontaneity, for that is what has brought this prayer meeting about. I find such serendipity infectious. Arriving back in Mahia I go on with my largely boring daily routine. In this far flung, peaceful place I find I want to pray along with millions of others all doing the same thing at the same time in other far flung places. Apparently the Pope says that God is not a God of habit but a God of surprise. Indeed in this instance he is right.  The papacy has touched Mahia. The Holy Spirit blows as a Holy Spirit ought.

It is taking me a while to make up my mind about what I think of this Pope. So much of what is mediated about him and his papacy takes me back to the eighties and nineties in New Zealand when we were changing the Church and pastoral life was abuzz with that change. It seems now that this change mentality has arrived in Rome. Many in Westernised Catholicism seem to think this official arrival of change at Catholic headquarters heralds a more liberal approach to Church laws and traditions. If this is so we can expect our pastoral life in New Zealand to be easier.

I wonder how much more ease pastoral life here can tolerate. Catholic life seems pretty cruisey to me at the moment. That it should be hard and habitual seems to belong to time before change. And here I must say that though God surprises me I have found God in habit as well. When it comes to parents passing on the faith to children, or remaining faithful to vows God is in that Catholic habit. Yes God surprises the world and adults seeking to deepen their childhood faith need to be told this fact. But God is in human habit too. If this were not so how could we go on with sacramental life day after day.

The world likes Pope Francis. Ordinary people can relate to him because he seems to be like us. I read an editorial that declared him to be a holy man and wondered what the press in New Zealand knows about holiness that it can judge him to be holy so early in his papacy. Again the Holy  Spirit surprises me. It is a salutary lesson that the world has a habit of reminding churched people about what God’s life on earth looks like. There seems to be a rawness in secular life that recognises and likes holiness. It is a rawness and liking that we who hear the Gospel seem to place ourselves above. I wonder if we miss so much of the raw workings of the Holy Spirit in the world because we are proud.

Scoring a try

Scoring a try

Early on in his papacy Pope Francis was questioned by the media about his views on homosexuality. What happened on that flight was truly evangelical and will be a story told throughout coming generations. It is a delightful story which can be told to children. “Who am I to judge?” he said for all the world to hear. He went into a media scrum, grabbed the ball off them and scored a try for Christianity. Such an action had me wondering how he managed to act in a way that most of us only talk about, usually in clichés like judge the sin not the sinner, hate the sin not the sinner and separate the sin from the sinner.  Personally I would not like to be separated from my sins by any person except the priest in the Confessional. How does the stranger know how important sin is to me in my quest for holiness? How does a stranger assess my acceptance of my sinfulness as part of my human nature? It would take something akin to the skill of a top surgeon for a stranger to perform such a delicate operation. Pope Francis did not action any of the above clichés. He did something quite different and probably surprised even himself.

What did The Pope do? He answered the question as Jesus answered. Clever questions with a skill proper to a holy person. From an aeroplane, mid-air, he gave a timeless, universal message about the need of all persons at all times to be loved, especially in the midst of their sin and suffering. He simply saw the world as God sees the world and loved it all, good and bad alike. He offered people the world over a holy way to be happy and that way is to seek peace of mind and heart in a fallen world.

I do not think Pope Francis suddenly became holy because he was elected Pope. He is mediated to the world, at this stage of his papacy at least, as a person first and a Pope second. The media obviously like the person he is, and the media recognises his personhood even if it is not named as such. Is this not odd for an industry which makes millions out of personalities? And now Sir Elton John has come out singing the praises of the Pope. What is going on here? The times they are a changin?’

Personhood is deeper than personality and its depth comes from a person acknowledging the divine presence within his or her body and at the same time acknowledging his or her human, fallen condition and establishing peace between the two.  This action takes some contemplating and a person who contemplates life for long enough will eventually, with God’s grace and favour, be able to act as Pope Francis acted, though perhaps without the flair and bright lights.

Pope and Journelists

Pope and Journelists

In tricky situations such as the Pope faced, where teaching and mercy are called for simultaneously and suddenly, it is the person who is ever establishing peace between his or her sinful nature by seeking to imitate God’s perfect love who scores the tries for Christianity. God combines that person’s years of striving for personal holiness with all the general striving of all baptised persons, me included. The angels and saints want in on the act too and so all creation focuses in on that one moment which is of course eucharistic. The Holy Spirit pours forth from a person in words which effortlessly do the trick. “Who am I to judge?” All the differences of race, creed, belief, opinion and sin melt away in an unction of grace. In the most unlikely place, in the most unlikely situation and in the midst of the most unlikely groups a raw, common goodness is borne between persons who feel in that moment that a little bit of heaven is established on earth

A little bit of heaven goes a long way. In the tradition of the Good Samaritan His Holiness found himself evangelising outside his neighbourhood. He found “the hood,” as the young ones say, in an aeroplane though it was obvious from his spontaneity that he was not seeking it. Rather he had done his homework and was ready to evangelise anywhere, anytime. 

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