On Good Friday morning last week, I received this text message from a friend, “Your new Pope is all kinds of awesome.”
You can probably derive from the message that my friend is not Catholic. He read in the news about Pope Francis’s Holy Thursday visit to wash the feet of prison inmates and, like many of us, was impressed by the act of love demonstrated by the Holy Father.
Others, however, have had different reactions. I read about those who think that, by washing the feet of two women, Pope Francis was signaling support for women in the priesthood. He wasn’t. I’ve also read that, because one of the women was Muslim, Pope Francis was endorsing Islam. I seriously doubt it.
I expect these kind of things from the mainstream media, who look for any deviance from protocol to imply that the Pope is going to “change” Catholicism. What I was less prepared for was the ultra-traditionalist Catholics who decried Pope Francis’s actions as undoing all of the good work of Pope Benedict XVI. Here’s just a taste of that reaction for those who missed it, quoted from an AP article that ran in USA Today:
One of the most-read traditionalist blogs, “Rorate Caeli,” reacted to the foot-washing ceremony by declaring the death of Benedict’s eight-year project to correct what he considered the botched interpretations of the Second Vatican Council’s modernizing reforms.
This led me to reflect on the first couple of weeks of Pope Francis’s leading of the church. It has been so different from the leadership of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, but excellent in an entirely different way.
There’s no doubt that Benedict sought to reinstate some of the beautiful traditions of the church that were unnecessarily disregarded after the Second Vatican Council. This was his conviction and he made it a personal mission. He sought to put forth the image of the church as he saw the image of God, the Father. He wanted her to reflect God’s majesty, grandeur and “otherness” in the world. His efforts to that effect were beautiful and enriching to the church.
On the other hand, Pope Francis wants the world to see the another face of the church: the one connected to God the son, Jesus. He has a vision and passion for a servant church that, like Jesus, does not “regard equality with God something to be grasped” (Phillipains 2:6). In his actions he’s calling us all to embody the servant Jesus, filled with charity and love for the “least of these.”
Yes, it’s different than Pope Benedict XVI… and that’s ok. If the universe is big enough to a Triune God, it’s certainly big enough for a church that images the three persons of the trinity. We all need to stop wailing about the actions coming out of Rome and putting them into the context of our democratic desires for the church. The actions of Pope Francis, and Pope Benedict XVI before him are catechesis for you and for me.
“Whoever has ears ought to hear” (Matthew 11:15).