Catholic Church England via Flickr licensed CC
In 1985 during her exuberant acceptance speech for her second Academy Award, Sally Field gushed to the crowd, "I wanted more than anything to have your respect…You like me. Right now, you really like me?"
I have felt a little bit like that since Pope Francis came on the scene. I wanted him to be a great pope like John Paul II, and an authentic theologian like Benedict XVI. But more than that, I wanted to truly respect him and genuinely like him - really like him! And I wanted to see in his words and actions that he truly reciprocated those feelings, even to me, a lowly mother and housewife in Ohio. I wanted him to like me - really like me too!
We didn't get off to a very good start.
First there was the "Who am I to judge?" quote (which was totally misrepresented by the media and taken completely out of context). Nonetheless, I couldn't help but wonder, "Who are you? You're the pope! If any one can make these determinations shouldn't it be you?"
Hitting closer to home, was the "breeding like bunnies" quote with regard to cesarean births. I covered that in some depth here. I began to wonder if Francis was truly MY Pope. Was he scoffing at the life and decisions I had made over the past 20 years in an effort to live out authentic Catholic life? Have I been deceived before, or was I being fooled now?
Nonetheless, when he came to America, I caught Francis Fever! He was humble, and gracious and so outgoing to the children and the disabled. And he was pleasant and even funny! He never turned anyone away. How could I not love him as the benevolent father, the pope is meant to be? I couldn't help myself.
But if I loved him, I still could not understand him. I tried to pass off the things I didn't understand as cultural differences between the pope's native South American culture and my own American background. Or perhaps, I thought, it was a generational divide that I didn't understand. Whatever it was, I saw that many of my friends who were fallen away Catholics, dissident Catholics, and even anti-Catholics were excited about Pope Francis and see him as their pope too. Were we seeing the same man?
The answer to that became clear a few weeks ago in Pope Francis' Homily at the Opening Mass for the Synod on the Family. Here the Pope speaks about the loneliness of the human condition that God understands, and the emptiness of modern life with
"many pleasures, but few loves; many liberties, but little freedom"
And then he heroically defends the family and proclaims church teaching on life and moral issues:
Our experience today is, in some way, like that of Adam: so much power and at the same time so much loneliness and vulnerability. The image of this is the family. People are less and less serious about building a solid and fruitful relationship of love: in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, in good times and in bad. Love which is lasting, faithful, conscientious, stable and fruitful is increasingly looked down upon, viewed as a quaint relic of the past. It would seem that the most advanced societies are the very ones which have the lowest birth-rates and the highest percentages of abortion, divorce, suicide, and social and environmental pollution.
This is God’s dream for his beloved creation: to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self. It is the same plan which Jesus presents in today’s Gospel: "From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mk 10:6-8; cf. Gen 1:27; 2:24).
And that despite what some have said, Francis is not simply following popular trends.
The Church is called to carry out her mission in truth, which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions. The truth which protects individuals and humanity as a whole from the temptation of self-centredness and from turning fruitful love into sterile selfishness, faithful union into temporary bonds. "Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love” (Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 3).
Then finally, after reiterating and reteaching Traditional and Authentic Catholic teaching, Pope Francis delved into some more truths - and these paragraphs showed me who Francis really is:
And the Church is called to carry out her mission in charity, not pointing a finger in judgment of others, but – faithful to her nature as a mother – conscious of her duty to seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy; to be a "field hospital” with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support; even more, to reach out to others with true love, to walk with our fellow men and women who suffer, to include them and guide them to the wellspring of salvation.
A Church which teaches and defends fundamental values, while not forgetting that "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27); and that Jesus also said: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17). A Church which teaches authentic love, which is capable of taking loneliness away, without neglecting her mission to be a good Samaritan to wounded humanity.
The secret to understanding Pope Francis is to realize that he indeed is trying to be the loving, caring, and gentle the shepherd the vicar of Christ is called to be. Like any good parent, he teaches, discusses and passes on to his children the truth of the Christian life as it is. But then he emphasizes the harder next step in loving the hurt and the wounded, and being the Good Samaritan who cares for others regardless of their station or condition in this life. And that's the aspect of his papacy that I think people are misunderstanding. And now that he's explained it, I totally get it! - because it's really what Jesus did in ministering to the sinners while still boldly teaching against the sin. Now that I see that from his own words, I think I finally have Pope Francis figured out.
Now if I could just figure out what he has against mother -in-laws?