Commentary: The Pope Francis Conundrum
Nothing personal but I’m one Roman Catholic worn down searching for a Pope Francis decoder ring. Since many of my friends and I carry a more orthodox view of our faith we tread softly around the Francis dilemma. We wouldn’t want to offend and perhaps harm any opportunities for an afterlife. Francis is a fiscal liberal. This isn’t a secret. He may even be more to the left of any garden variety American liberal. The evidence was clear last week when I was reading a reporter’s notes about the coverage of a Church Synod on the Family. I don’t doubt the reporter’s claims some conservative Cardinals from Africa found themselves excluded from some discussions and that Francis and his allies were behind the effort. The reporter apparently has a leftist German Cardinal on tape saying as much.
None of this means I pine for Francis retirement, although. He states he doesn’t plan a long tenure as Pope. He’s also aware the lefties in U.S. media try and portray him as a social liberal. He isn’t. Do I find these contradictions challenging? Of course, but why shouldn’t we be challenged in faith? Francis shakes us from our complacencies.
The Pope has an upcoming challenge of his own. President Obama’s welcoming party contains some folks who’ve got issues with the Church. One wonders if Obama believes he can muscle the Holy Father as he muscles Congress and the American people. Another and less likely explanation is the President is as confused as I am when it comes to interpreting the Vicar of Christ. After all, when America’s left-of-center political elites hear warnings of global warming catastrophe and recommendations for wealth redistribution the Pope is preaching to the choir. Many must assume he’s more Democrat Party than Christian. Therefore he wants to promote sex, especially same-sex, and women as priests. Obviously they’ve got him confused with a wayward Episcopal Church. Not for the first time is Barack Obama overplaying his hand. He hasn’t yet learned Presidents like Popes aren’t eternal.
If you put “Pope Francis” into a search engine you’ll doubtless quickly find stories about his waning influence among American Catholics and about the fading of Catholicism altogether across the fruited plain. “Get with it, Pope!” seems to be the point of the writers. What I think these people are missing is it’s a rare Christian regardless of denomination who believes everyone is going to heaven. The number 144,000 is what I recall an old college girlfriend telling me when the question of eternal life would roll around. She was Protestant. Raised in a liberal Presbyterian Church, USA congregation. It also was the view of a Wesleyan friend I roomed with in my early radio days. I’m not sure any recent Bishops of Rome have cited an exact figure. Religious faith isn’t something sold like old fashioned newspaper subscriptions. Francis’ immediate predecessor made it clear at his installation. A more pure Church is a smaller Church.
I first heard the term “Cafeteria Catholics” in the early to mid-1990s. At the time I was working at a legendary news talk station where the three main on-air hosts all were practicing Catholics. The allegation came from a guy at a Catholic radio operation from out in the suburbs. What I think he failed to understand is when it comes to commercial radio a host’s faith isn’t denied but there are other on-air topics competing for discussion. It’s the “broad” in broadcasting. To make it clear none of these men ever denied their faith or God on-air. Our competitor I’m sure was trying to fire up some discussion and I’ve no problem with his approach but to add he was a sinner. I climbed out of bed at ten-after-four this morning. My first sin likely came within twenty minutes. A thought about someone who recently irritated me or a picture of a lovely woman on my Facebook page caught my attention in a family way or a flash of anger because the power wash guys never showed up yesterday and I had to keep the windows closed when it was cloudless for the first time all week.
What are we going to do about our selfishness and desires for instant gratification? Liberal, conservative or apolitical we’re supposed to recognize those moments or at some point daily we’ve stumbled and failed in our quests for perfection. This is the overriding message Francis brings to America. Presidents are filled with imperiousness by their lavish surroundings and men-in-waiting. The rest of us are felled by “want, want, want”. That Francis has me thinking about my relationships with others and my desire for the forgiveness of the Almighty tells me the Pope is doing the work for which he was chosen.
Just as I was posting this story the cat came along and wanted attention. When I told him, “In a minute,” he heard gibberish and then crawled under the desk and unplugged my computer. When I mention early morning sim you can imagine my reaction was colorful. Then when he cowered I picked him up and petted him to let him know I care. The Francis Effect?