Is Pope Francis Really That Different?

I know I’m a little late to the party, but I want to comment on Pope Francis’ latest interview in American Magazine that raised a stir. It has more progressively minded Catholics giving the pope a big thumbs up while traditional Catholics are squirming in their seats. Some people think that Pope Francis is undoing decades of zealotry and adherence to dogma while others see him simply rephrasing long-held teachings of the faith. In a way, the pope’s comments are a spiritual Rorschach test. Otherwise known as an inkblot test, a subject sees pictures of generic shapes and says the first thing that comes to mind. It helps psychologists determine someone’s state of mind. Like the Rorschach test, Pope Francis’ comments almost reveal more about our perceptions of the Church than what the Church actually teaches.

the ninth blot of the Rorschach inkblot test
What Catholic Church do you see?

Pope Francis’ interview is about 12,000 words long (please read it). The mainstream media and blog outlets mostly fixated on a few statements about how the Church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” And that “the church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” Just look at the headlines:

  • Huffington PostPope Francis: Gays, Abortion Too Much Of Catholic Church’s Obsession
  • New York Times — Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control
  • The Daily BeastThe Pope Confesses Church’s ‘Obsession’ With Gays, Abortion (I was amused by the use of the word “confesses”)

Taken on its own, it sounds like Pope Francis is casting off all those stuffy, cold-hearted rules that previous popes enforced to the letter. But when viewed in the context of the whole interview, you see that he’s saying that our faith and evangelization isn’t primarily about beating people over the head with rules and guidelines. The pope does not want people to blindly obey because people will never embrace the true Catholic Church that way. Instead, he wants people to know that God loves them and the Church dogma and doctrines exist to bring people closer to God’s grace. Essentially, the pope hopes that people will want to follow the Church’s guidelines out of love, not offer blind allegiance. CatholicVote.com has a good article that summarizes the pope’s interview if you want more analysis.

To their credit, many of the mainstream media articles do say that Pope Francis didn’t change Church teaching. This is the same message previous popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests have taught (or should have taught) for years. But when I read the comments in these online articles, I do get the sense that people are projecting their desires on what they would like the Church to be and not actually hearing what the pope says the Church actually is. They only see the aspects of the pope or the Catholic Church that fit their worldview and filter out anything that does not fit. For example, did you know that Pope Francis recently excommunicated a priest for promoting gay marriage and women’s ordination? You probably did not because that doesn’t fit the narrative of the compassionate pope the media portrays and is more in line with Pope Benedict‘s image as “God’s pit bull.”

Same Church, different world, different strategies, different media.

A writer for one of my favorite Catholic blogs, Creative Minority Report, demonstrated how easy it is to sway people’s perceptions of the pope depending on how his words are reported and filtered. I urge you to read this article that has quotes by the pope on the importance of women in the Church, how the Church should focus on helping the poor, how She embraces other faiths, and how humble he is. That describes Pope Francis to a tee right? But the M. Night Shyamalan twist at the end is that those quotes all come from Pope Benedict. Yeah, that supposedly detached, rule-oriented pope according to many media outlets. So this is a word of warning that you should perceive the pope or the Catholic faith with caution. Are your views based on your own conscience or on the narrative someone is trying to push?

What RosaryMeds Do I Need?

I think we all need a healthy dose of the Fifth Glorious Mystery — Mary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven. In the interview, Pope Francis said, “Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity.” We should pray for help and guidance from Mary, Queen of Heaven. Remember, media outlets and blogs are in the business of selling products and advertisements and making profits. Mary is in the business of saving souls and making sure that as many people as possible will one day live in the peace of happiness of Heaven. When it comes to matters of faith, perhaps we should put down the New York Times, turn off Fox News, and pick up a rosary if we want to know the true Catholic Church.

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What a Chicken Sandwich and the Olympics Teach Us About the Rosary

What a month it has been in terms of the assault on religious liberty, freedom of speech, and tolerance for differing opinions. Many events, both large and small, occurred recently that should give us all pause and question how safe our God-given freedom of religion really is in this world. Of course there was the Chick-Fil-A fiasco where the CEO stated his personal beliefs in the importance of traditional marriage. Note that this was his personal belief — the same one that thousands of business owners probably hold and one that even president Obama publicly held for years. The Chick-Fil-A CEO was not making any policy changes about how his franchises would operate. Anyone and everyone is more than welcome to eat or work at Chick-Fil-A restaurants. But out came both the outrage (someone berating an employee and acts of vandalism) as well as the support.

English: Lolo Jones after winning the women's ...

There have also been some less publicized assaults on people who publicly profess their faith. For example, the New York Times published a rather vicious article on professed Christian athlete, Lolo Jones. While not overtly attacking her faith, it is interesting that the NY Times targeted Jones as more image than substance before she even started competing in the London Olympics. There have been plenty of people who have underperformed in major athletic events, but it seems odd that the NY Times singled out Jones. It was as if they wanted a self-fulfilling prophecy where they knew she wouldn’t do well if they pre-emptively knocked her down a few pegs (it worked too — see her break down in this interview). But why would anyone want to write an article about an athlete’s failures before the competition even began? Who knows what their motive was. Could it have been a warning to others — mention your faith publicly and we’ll tear you to shreds? After all, Lolo Jones isn’t the first person to come into the media’s cross-hairs because of her faith. Does the name Tebow ring a bell?

There is an ancient Chinese curse that says, “may you live in interesting times.” And by “interesting” it means full uncertainty and danger. And we are finding ourselves living in more interesting times every day. It almost seems like over night, publicly living one’s faith is taboo. Mentioning personal beliefs that you derive from an authority other than the government is considered radical. Citing your freedom of religion is almost treasonous. And the power structure, whether it be the media or the government, will tear you down if you bring out your religion anywhere except in a church for an hour on Sunday. Many politicians have no issues with Catholics as long as they only act Catholic during Mass. Only a generation ago, a Catholic priest had an Emmy award-winning, prime time television show dedicated to teaching faith and morals to the public. Now just stating you’re a Christian and not participating in the 24/7 orgy which is the Olympic Village will get your torn apart by the media.

The rosary teaches us a lot about living our faith publicly, even when it is unpopular or difficult to do so. In fact, nearly all the mysteries of the rosary can relate to overcoming challenges the world might throw at us for professing our beliefs. Here’s a few examples:

That’s just a handful of rosary mysteries about living our faith publicly. But you get the idea that Jesus never called us to separate our spirituality and our public lives. It isn’t just priests and nuns that God calls to be outward signs of His glory, but all of us by living and professing our faith and morality. I do believe that Satan is stepping up his attacks on the faithful as the world becomes ever more hostile towards faith and morality. But this is the time when we need to double our efforts by doubling our prayer and our efforts to follow God’s Word. Pick up a rosary, pray, act morally, and win that spiritual gold medal!

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