There is so much material out there in the wake of Pope Francis’ massively popular visit to the United States that I hardly know where to begin, so I am not going to try.
With constant television coverage and a saturated social media presence, Pope Francis was no longer just the subject of screaming headlines about the evils of unbridled capitalism and a “who-am-I-to judge” attitude toward behaviors the Catholic Church describes as sinful.
Instead, he repeatedly admitted his own failures and reminded people they, too, have fallen short. He urged them to trust in God’s mercy and get a move on proclaiming that to the world — first with gestures and maybe with words.
Sin is sin even for Pope Francis. Human life is sacred at every stage of its development, and that includes the lives of convicted murders, he said during the visit. People are blessed and at their best when they are part of a family composed of a mother, a father, children and grandparents. The well-being of a nation is served by businesses and enterprises that make money, but that do not make money their god.
The pope’s proclamation of the Gospel in Washington, New York and Philadelphia Sept. 22-27 focused on reinvigorating people’s faith, hope, trust and commitment to loving God, serving others and living up to the founding ideals of the United States: equality, opportunity for all, religious liberty and the sacred dignity of every creature — human especially, but also the earth.
That is some beautiful writing as well as an apt description overall of the Pope’s message.
I don’t associate poverty with the Society of Jesus anymore, but I do associate extremism—a certain pushing of one’s charism to the limit—with it. And I do see that very strongly in this papacy. I think that’s one reason it has a kind of force to it. Also, the extremism is sometimes dangerous and unworkable. Jesuits go notoriously to the line and sometimes over it.
I think we see this experimental quality in Francis. A lot of the things he says and does are kind of about testing limits. That’s so Society of Jesus. When he was first elected, I knew nothing about his reputation, but I knew he was a Jesuit and one of my friends asked: “What do you think?” I said: “Strap on your seatbelt.” And my friend asked: “Why?” I said: “Because he’s a Jesuit.” That extremism is a strength and a weakness of the Society. And I think his papacy has great strength, but also great weaknesses.
But on this particular visit, I don’t think it came through. I think it was a very cautious visit. The fact he had to speak in English limited his ability to ad-lib any bold gestures. And I regret he allowed himself to be controlled by the security apparatus. The visit’s not yet over, but I had hoped he would have basically given the finger to the Secret Service and walked down the streets of New York. I think his disregard for the security apparatus is an important gesture in a global system where the Davos elite increasingly live in a bubble—insulated from everything and everybody else. And I think it’s a powerful witness on his part to refuse that bubble.
In your view, what have been the greatest highlights of this papacy so far?
The part that resonates is also the part that worries me. He’s a disruptor. Many things need to be disrupted, but, then again, some things don’t need to be disrupted. I’m all in favor of breaking the things that need to be broken, but it’s dangerous when you start breaking things. So that goes back to the theme of extremism. The extremism is both exciting and inspiring, but also disorienting. You know, somebody has to “mind the store” while the Jesuit is on the peripheries.
The “minding the store” comment resonates with commentary from Robert Royal at The Catholic Thing on the Pope’s homily at his closing Mass in Philadelphia yesterday and other matters.
It was what he said earlier, in his reflection on the Gospel – where the apostles are worried about healers who are not among the formal adherents to the Lord – that Francis expressed a radical view that may well tell us what will start to happen at the Synod on the Family next weekend:
“Moses and Jesus both rebuke those closest to them for being so narrow! . . .For them, his openness to the honest and sincere faith of many men and women who were not part of God’s chosen people seemed intolerable. The disciples, for their part, acted in good faith. But the temptation to be scandalized by the freedom of God, who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike (Mt5:45), bypassing bureaucracy, officialdom and inner circles, threatens the authenticity of faith. Hence it must be vigorously rejected.”
There’s much to be said against rigid institutions that betray the freedom and action of the Spirit, but much also to be said in favor of those institutions, and the good and faithful pastors who run them, that support us all through the many twists and turns of earthly life, which cannot solely be met with spontaneous recourse to the Spirit, but must also engage the dumb practicalities of daily life.
Sharp criticism of the Churchmen who try to serve the people. High praise of those outside the Church who may be following the Spirit without knowing it. And all this in a homily during a Mass supposed to be the conclusion to an international meeting to help affirm and promote the family.
Even a sophisticated Catholic cannot help but find this quite unsettling. We know and agree up to a point with what the Holy Father is saying. But there’s much else – much that seems far more urgent – challenging our societies. Perhaps the Synod on the Family, which begins this week, will enlighten us.