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. 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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No Cross Too Heavy with God’s Love

Pope Benedict XVI during visit to São Paulo, B...

Where did August go?  Sorry for what seemed like a long vacation.  But trust me, I was hard at work writing my rosary guide which always seemed to need one more revision.  But the good news is that it looks like my summer surge is over and I now have some proof copies for what will hopefully be one, final round of editing.

As summer comes to an end it is time to once again get back to writing articles on RosaryMeds on a more regular basis.  This year I started tieing together the Sunday Gospel reading and a rosary mystery.  Now I want to take my articles in a different direction and tie the rosary mysteries to Catholic news and current events.  I want to show how we can tie the lessons taught in the rosary to things we witness every day.

I’m going to start with some words of wisdom Pope Benedict XVI gave to a group of new seminarians at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.  He told them not to be afraid to take up their crosses and follow Jesus’ path.  From the article on the Catholic News Agency:

“The Christian follows the Lord with love when he accepts his cross which in the eyes of the world appears as a defeat and a ‘loss of life’, while that man knows that he does not bear his alone but with Jesus, sharing the same path of self-giving,”  the Pope said.

I think this is an important observation on how the modern world views religious life.  Modern secularists look at the time Catholics spend praying, fasting, reading the Bible (ok, most of us probably come up a little short in this category), and receiving the sacraments and ask, “why?”  They see us living what they would consider a pointless life instead of going out and “having fun.”  Of course, questioning the path of Christ is hardly a new phenomenon.  In the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary we see Jesus’ Passion where He falls down and gets back up repeatedly only to face greater suffering.  We look at Christ’s actions and ask, “why?”  Why did Jesus keep getting back up knowing that his path was not getting any easier?  Why did He get up when the only thing facing him was crucifixion?

Jesus continued out of love for us and a resolve to follow the path God laid before Him.  While Jesus pleaded with God in the Garden of Gesthemene to find an easier route, Jesus also acknowledged that He would do whatever God deemed necessary.  God chose a difficult road for Jesus but ultimately one that Jesus not only endured, but triumphed as seen in the Resurrection.  Similarly, God sometimes lays down a difficult road for many of us.  It is one fraught with inconveniences at its best and persecution and martyrdom at its worst.  But all these roads, from the easiest to the hardest, lead to our salvation in God’s Kingdom of Heaven.  God’s glory is why Jesus continued carrying His cross and it is why we carry ours.

So when we pray the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary let us remember those who choose religious life whether they be seminarians, priests, brothers, nuns, deacons, and anyone who serves the Church.  Many of them choose to lead a hard life and one that is not appreciated by many in modern society who view religion as silly superstition.  People who choose a religious vocation see the ultimate joy that comes from living in God’s grace even if that means giving up some worldly luxuries.  They are an inspiration to us all as we should have that same goal of loving God with every word, thought, and action.

We should also pray for those who are staunch secularists or hate faiths like the Catholic Church.  They are the ones who fell under the weight of the cross this world offers them and only see misery in religion.  As the Pope told the seminarians:

“When the fulfillment of one’s life is only aimed towards social success, and physical and economic well-being, man is not thinking according to God but according to man.” Such an attempt to refuse God’s “project of love,” said the Pope, “almost prevents man from carrying out His masterly will.”

The modern secularist reminds me of an athlete who tells himself he cannot continue the long race.  He thinks he has no energy left and that he is too far behind to catch up.  All he sees is obstacles and cannot see that glorious finish line.  All they concentrate on is the heavy weight of their “crosses” in life and in their beaten state they do not see what Jesus has prepared for them in Heaven.  We should pray that they get their spiritual “second wind” and accept God’s “project of love” as the Pope puts it.  When we accept God’s road and truly acknowledge the greatness God has in store for us then there is no cross heavy enough to keep us down.

Close Encounter of the Papal Kind

Buona sera! That is Italian for “Good Evening.” I got used to saying that phrase quite often during my two-week trip to Italy. I’m back now and I thought I would share the highlight of the vacation. My wife and I attended Mass on Pentecost Sunday, in St. Peter’s Basilica, lead by Pope Benedict XVI on our first-year wedding anniversary.

Pope Benedict giving a blessing

Buona sera!  That is Italian for “Good Evening.”  I got used to saying that phrase quite often during my two-week trip to Italy.  I’m back now and I thought I would share the highlight of the vacation.  My wife and I attended Mass on Pentecost Sunday, at St. Peter’s Basilica, lead by Pope Benedict XVI on our first-year wedding anniversary.  I wish I could say that I planned this all especially for our anniversary, but it was mostly a lucky coincidence of being in the right place at the right time.  However, I can’t think of a better way of spending our anniversary than attending a Papal Mass at the literal center of the Catholic Church.

This experience was very energizing and felt like a small pep rally for my soul.  It definitely fell more on the electrifying side rather than a deeply spiritual one.  It is difficult to have a deeply solemn and meditative experience when you are in St. Peter’s Basilica with thousands of other people, many of whom are there to watch a good show, listen to a symphony, and take pictures rather than pray.  That being said, the grandeur of the ceremony appealed to another side of my spirituality — my excitement and joy of being a member of the Catholic Church.  Throughout the Mass all I could think about was how great it is that this is my Church, my traditions, and my faith and I couldn’t be prouder to be a Catholic.

The excitement of the entire ceremony can be summarized in seeing The Holy Father walk down the isle only ten feet away from us.   As he walked by, staff in hand, I could really feel the presence of the Holy Spirit that surrounds him.  I felt a sense of excitement and pride coming so close to someone whose very smile radiates a joy that can only come by fully embracing the Faith.  Despite all the burdens and responsibility of his position, Pope Benedict XVI really looks like he is at ease with the monumental task God has given him.  This reminded me of Mary at the Annunciation where She accepted God’s Will despite the worldly burdens it would bring.

It’s safe to say that God calls most of us to much lighter service than what He asked of Mary and what He asks of the Pope.  So if they have the strength to say yes to God, and do it with a smile, then I’m confident that any one of us can accept God’s calling and do our small part with joy.

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