(As I get back to work focusing here, I am worried that we are spending way too much time finding things to deplore and getting the vapors over everything the Pope says. If we are reduced to defining ourselves almost exclusively by what we are against rather than by what we are for, we cede a big battle to the devil and go more easily into despair. If we treat debatable comments by the Pope as if they are fearful pronouncements, we could spend all our time in panic. I have been contemplating since the weekend. I have a post going up on it tonight, but our regular commenter, James I McAuley wrote a nice piece that I think is a good lead-in.-CJ)
By James I McAuley, Esq.
Throughout the internet there is an angst, unease with the pronouncement of Pope Francis, especially those that are off the cuff or given at press conferences. Regrettably, this angst has led to the Pope being treated in a disrespectful matter. It is much ado about nothing.
The Catholic faithful throughout the 20th century had a series of popes who were articulate and precise in their public speaking. Three of these popes, Venerable Pius XII, St. John XXIII, and Blessed Paul VI were at one time diplomats and thus were trained to speak in a fashion that was appropriate to the circumstance. To illustrate this point, as Americans, we could compare these Popes to great orators of our history such as Daniel Webster or that great Secretary of State and ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson. When these Popes spoke or wrote, there was no ambiguity in their statements.
With Pope Saint John Paul II we had a Pope who was a trained actor, teacher, diplomat, pastor and philosopher. St. John Paul came into a Church in crisis and a world in crisis. Swinging his rosary, he examined the big picture and then went to battle. The soul saving Divine Mercy devotion was encouraged, and magisterial, philosophical and theological issues were addressed in a series of incredible encyclicals (Evangelium Vitae and Veritatis Splendor and Dives in Misericordia, to name a few). Rounding out this spiritual arsenal was a new catechism of the Church that John Paul issued. His ability to see the big picture made John Paul much like General George Washington or General Ulysses Simpson Grant. Like these men, John Paul never lost focus of the grand strategic picture of the spiritual war we are engaged in, and no mistakes or scandals could make him lose focus. Like Washington at Monmouth or Grant in the Wilderness, John Paul never lost his head in any crisis. Such a leader restored the confidence of Catholics worldwide.
Pope Benedict XVI was cut from a different cloth. Primarily an academic, he was a theologian. In his position as the head of the Holy Office, Benedict acted as theological Chief of Staff for John Paul. On any major theological issue, John Paul knew he could rely on Benedict to give him a clear answer. As Pope, Benedict kept this approach and it showed in his great motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. Benedict could be compared to General George C. Marshall, a behind the scenes planner who saw the big picture and, by his clear and precise articulation of theological issues, gave orthodox Catholics confidence in the stability of the Church, despite the growing storm.
However, Benedict was a man not comfortable with being on the public stage. Recognizing the growing strength of the spiritual storm, Benedict, like a true chief of staff, thought it prudent to resign his post as Captain of the Barque of Peter and hand the wheel of the ship over to someone else.
Enter Pope Francis, a man best known for speaking imprecisely, but a man who gained managerial skills overseeing a Jesuit province and a south American Archdiocese. Through it all, he has been primarily a pastor. In other words, Francis has spent a lot of time during the reigns of Saint John Paul II and Benedict in the spiritual trenches, field hospitals, and fields of battle. Because of this background, Francis has learned to deal with situations in a matter appropriate for a parish priest. Think about it – have not each one of you heard his parish priest answer a question in language/manner that is more like that of Pope Francis? Francis has not been refined in the papal diplomatic service as Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI. He is not a man with stage talents such as John Paul II. He most certainly is not an academic theologian as Benedict XVI. Rather, he is a pastor, first and foremost. As a pastor, he is looking at the operational situation. In this he is like General Patton – inclined to open his big mouth and stick his foot into it, but at the same time, tell the truth and get the job done by addressing the problem. Because of this background, Francis is not equipped to answer questions/issues in the way we are accustomed to. Unfortunately, in response, many people respond by getting angry, hysterically losing their heads and then spew statements that cause only spiritual harm. Others play the diplomat and attempt to spin/nuance Francis’s statements in whatever fashion that suits their particular opinions.
But take comfort, with Francis we now have a trained pilot at the wheel of the Barque of Peter. Like Admiral Farragut at Mobile Bay, it is damn the torpedoes of Satan and full speed ahead. The storm is not stopping Francis from preaching the truth in charity, as confusing as it may be – do captains on board ships in the middle of storms have the time to sit down and write detailed orders? No, of course they do not! Rather they give brief, terse and often confusing answers/orders, such as Custer’s last message at the Little Big Horn. Now the smoke is thick, the enemy is weakening, and the battle has not even reached its crescendo yet – but let us man our battle station on the Barque of Peter and keep praying for the pope! We will win, and Francis is leading us to victory with our Lady of Tepayac, as sure as Don Juan and St. Pius V did at Lepanto!