Judging Pope Francis

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“He’s going to have to answer to God for this!” a friend commented to me after Pope Francis addressed the joint session of Congress.  At first, I too wondered what the Pope was doing.

The papal dust is settling and reactions on his 6-day visit are coming into focus.  The lecture to Congress that never was–scolding Democrats for supporting abortion—caused rumblings in the pews among the faithful.  So much talk on environment and climate while only a mention on the sacredness of life at all stages, made some nervous. Others were angry. Among many, the question: Is the Pope Catholic?  went from sarcasm to literal. 

When I asked my husband if he was disappointed with the Pope’s approach with Congress, he replied:  “He’s a Jesuit.  It’s a chess match.”   He believes Pope Francis is making his moves strategically towards the end game of evangelizing.

If you are still judging Pope Francis as making the wrong moves during his visit, I’m going to suggest you’re missing some things.  Here are my reasons:

  • The pope electrified the country across denominational lines.
  • Before Pope Francis, most people knew more about what the Church is against. He’s showing everyone what we are for.
  • The  “Francis Effect” is bringing anti-Catholic walls down.
  • Non-Catholics and ex-Catholics came out in numbers to see him and many of the latter are considering returning home.
  • The secular media covered the Pope’s visit with unabashed admiration.
  • If you disagree with the Pope’s approach, only one of you can be right. It’s unlikely to be you.
  • Pope Francis leads with love—“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1Cor 13:13).
  • The point of his visit was not to tell people what they already know: that the Church is against abortion and same-sex marriage—although he did make statements against both.
  • Pope Francis makes people feel loved and they are more likely to listen when they feel loved first.
  • It’s strategy. The pope identifies the people he needs to reach then finds common ground so they will identify with him.
  • The Pope did touch on all the major issues throughout his visit.
  • He made people proud to be Catholic.

Pope Francis follows the example of this namesake St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel always and if necessary, use words.” He is reaching out to the prodigal sons. The point of the parable of the “Prodigal Son” is God’s love and mercy, not to pat the good son on the back while lecturing the fallen one.  I dare to say that no one in history has ever visited the U.S. and received as much media coverage as Pope Francis did.  Neither has anyone ever generated such enthusiasm to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ.   

To criticize the pope and believe he’s not following the will of God would mean that all his prayers and all the world’s prayers for him are not kicking in. It would mean the Holy Spirit has informed you but did not get through to the pope.   When St. Peter reacted negatively upon hearing of our Lord’s plan to win our salvation, Jesus told him:  “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matt 16:23).  Our concerns for the Pope should be channeled into prayers for him and into trust that the Holy Spirit has his back.

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