It seems that everywhere you go, people on the street, and even the media, are talking about how great Pope Francis is. “A breath of fresh air for the church” (implying that is was a bit stuffy), “people on the street have really taken to him” (implying that Common Joe was not at all interested at Pope Emeritus Benedict), “he’s showing us how to live like Jesus” (implying that this has not been happening). I could go on but I think you get the idea. There is a groundswell of people liking the pope.
Among these though are ones who profess that there is a new teaching going on: that Francis is changing Catholic Doctrines. First, and I say this by getting it off my chest, Francis has not changed any teaching. And if he did, it certainly would not be through some media outlet. Therefore he is not speaking infallibly, and furthermore any Catholic is still in full communion with the church if he or she disagrees with the Pope.
With that disclaimer, I’m not sure I agree with the way he’s going about things. Or about what he is saying. I certainly don’t think the biggest issues today are found in the youth or the elderly. Don’t get me wrong, I think the way he lives and shows human dignity is exemplary, but his silence is deafening on, say, the “gay” marriage movement in France (well, everywhere really), or abortions in America or China, or the Euthanasia movement surfacing in Europe. I mean, is he not aware of these things? I’m sure he his. So why his silence? His vocal support for those defending the traditional teachings of the church would have been like a shot of adrenaline in the arms of a tiring army. It’s easy to say he’s doing nothing about it. It’s too easy; there must something else he’s doing.
First, as has been said a number of times by a number of outlets, he has not changed any church teaching. Lets make that clear. But just as clear, something has changed. Some have said there is a refocus of teachings, of a way of life. Others have said that some of what was neglected by Benedict, is being addressed by Francis. Though there might be ring of truth to these statements I think there is still more going on.
As I reflect on the significance Francis has had on my life during his short pontificate, I find, in truth, that I am unsettled. I was comfortable with Benedict. I loved his approach to scripture and theology. His writing danced seamlessly from scripture to history to philosophy to doctrine and back in a way few before him have captured. I think he will end up being a Doctor of the church. (Sure, I’m calling it early, the man isn’t even dead yet! But he certainly has it in him.) I also liked Benedict’s renewal of the liturgy. I think there are few things that direct ones mind to heaven like a liturgy well done. It is important, but only for those in the church. There is one thing Benedict did though that, I think, will be significant through the eyes of history that is overlooked still so close the event: his effort in ecumenism.
It was an important and critical first step to get brothers of similar faiths united for the long road ahead. I think especially of the more traditional of the Anglicans who have entered the church – and continue to do so – and of the work in uniting the schismatic SSPX. His work towards reunification of the faith will be a landmark in his pontificate.
I remember last year running a lesson for some year 10s on ecumenism. I added in there the ways towards ecumenism highlighted by Dr. Peter Kreeft, the transcript of which can be found here. He points to the importance, in the context of Protestantism, of the personal relationship to Christ, a relationship closer than the Protestants could ever get. This is his key to ecumenism with Protestants. But the same principle applies to other groups: let’s love the environment more that the environmentalists, lets be more peaceful than Buddhists. Few doubt that the actions of Francis are from anywhere but God. He is living charitas. It is through his actions that people are coming to him. His is being more charitable than charities, more embracing than secularists, and more focused on personal dignity than humanists. And it’s making me uncomfortable.
But I’m sure it’s making many people uncomfortable. As someone with a more traditional bent, Francis is taking me out of my comfort zone. But he needs to do this for all traditionalists, as he is for all people. He is making those who oppose the faith uncomfortable, because they are reconsidering their opposition.
By his exemplary lifestyle, a lifestyle that challenges almost everyone, he is addressing what I think is among the biggest issue in the world today: that of the loss of human dignity. Restoring the human dignity in everyone he meets: that is his example. And by doing so his is challenging me, making me uncomfortable, to live likewise. And he also addresses the issues of “gay” marriage, euthanasia and abortion which have their foundation in the dignity of the human person. His silence in deafening, but his actions resonate through a largely hollow world. He may not be speaking infallibly, but if there was such a thing as acting infallibly, I think he would be very close to it. May he continue to challenge me and the whole world to a life conformed in Christ.
How is he challenging you?