Pope Benedict emphasized more the institution of the Church, the beauty of the liturgy with its trappings as well as the trappings of the papacy. But that didn't mean he excluded concern for the poor, taught against war and did not ask people to welcome refugees and immigrants. His symbols though were more symbolic and monarchical.
Point: Pope Francis and the measure of greatnessBy THE REV. LARRY SNYDER InsideSources.com
What qualifies a pope to be considered great?
Well, within less than one year after his election, Pope Francis was named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” and received top media coverage around the world. His @Pontifex accounts in nine languages on Twitter total more than 14 million followers, and a recent survey reported that he is more widely retweeted than any other world leader — meaning he beats them all in terms of reach and what social media experts call engagement. That should count as a measure of greatness.
But I suspect that when people think of Pope Francis, the first things that come to mind are images burned into memory because of their messages’ sheer power: Pope Francis washing and kissing the foot of a young Muslim woman in a detention center; Francis fully embracing a man with extreme deformities; Francis playfully placing a mischievous young boy on the papal chair, as a doting grandfather might.
With images such as these, Pope Francis teaches us and challenges us. At the center of his teaching and concern are the poor. Has anyone tried to count the times Francis has specifically referenced the poor? Has he ever spoken about social or economic realities without his point of reference — how the poor are faring? Without a doubt, he holds each and every one of them in his heart.
I have lived now under seven popes. Each has brought his own unique gifts and style to the papal office. The last three have given us a dramatic contrast in what constitutes papal leadership.
Pope St. John Paul II was a charismatic leader who commanded a place on the world stage. He was able to touch the hearts of the youth of the world and was the first pope to attain “rock star” status as he filled stadiums with cheering faithful.
Pope Benedict XVI, on the other hand, is a man whose life has been anchored in academia. He is a theologian who taught us through scholarly encyclicals. He appears to be as much of an introvert as his predecessor was an extrovert.
And then there is Francis. His most powerful teaching is by his actions. He shows us what we are to do by giving us an example. He goes where no pope has gone before and bids us to follow him. It is here that we see his vision of a church and a world fully engaged in the messiness of life bringing the message of God’s mercy to where it is needed most: the brokenness of human life.
This is a personal responsibility, but Francis holds social and economic systems just as accountable. A recurring theme for this pope is the responsibility of the economy to respond to the cries of the underprivileged who struggle to survive and of families to provide a future of hope and opportunity for their children. To this end, Pope Francis holds every economic system to the same standard: How are the poor among you faring?
But to stop there would be to miss a greater message. The overarching theme in Francis’ teaching is inclusion. Those deemed worthless or thrown away are held up as being of inestimable value. They are the poor. But they also are those who are mentally challenged, those who are physically disabled, those who are in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. Like the prophets of long ago, Pope Francis measures our society by how we treat the least among us.
It is probably good to point out that Pope Francis is not a politician. When he speaks and acts, he does so out of a prophetic tradition. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophets were agents who announced a vision of how God wished society to function. They gave us some of the most beautiful visions in the Bible of society and people living in harmony and accord. They also gave us some clear condemnations of ignoring the will of God, especially as it relates to the poor.
Pope Francis is causing a lot of talk throughout the world these days. Much of it focuses on his actions that show him to be a shepherd who smells like his sheep. Much of it focuses on his message of God’s mercy and compassion, rather than simply on God’s judgment.
The true test of his impact will be on how much all that talk turns into action, on changing systems so that all people receive dignity and respect and opportunity. I believe he is changing the papacy and changing our world for the better. At the very least, he is the new patron saint of the poor and forgotten. And, to me, that is a sure measure of greatness.The Rev. Larry Snyder is vice president for mission at the University of St. Thomas,
Minnesota and former president of Catholic Charities USA.
Counterpoint: Increasingly, the pope does not speak to meBy CHRISTINE FLOWERS InsideSources.com
It’s hard to dislike Pope Francis as a man. He is affable, has a winning smile, likes to hug children and has the most engaging way of throwing journalists off their game.
Unlike his predecessors, who were a bit more measured in the way they communicated (and in the case of Pope Benedict XVI, infinitely more measured,) Francis is much more of a pastoral cleric who takes his role as shepherd quite seriously. And that is part of the problem.
I am not a theologian, nor do I presume to have the knowledge and specialized expertise of a canon lawyer. My opinions are based entirely upon my fifty-some years of living a Catholic life with a view from the pew, so to speak. I was taught by the good Sisters of Mercy for most of my educational experience, and even chose a Catholic institution when I pursued a law degree. I attend church regularly, and am far from the stereotype of the “cafeteria Catholic,” unlike so many of my generation.
You can check off the topics, and I’m in sync with the church: Abortion is not just a sin, it is murder. Same-sex marriage violates the teachings against the essential value of one man, one woman in spiritual union. Artificial birth control, while necessary from a pragmatic standpoint in a world with limited resources, flies in the face of Catholic doctrine that each instance of human intercourse must be open to the creation of life. Secular divorce does not extinguish the lifelong, sacramental nature of a religious marriage. A female priesthood is not necessary to elevate my gender, because we have always been held in high regard through the Marian veneration.
I would, then, be the archetype of the “good sheep” who did not stray.
Increasingly, I am getting the sense that Pope Francis does not speak to me. He has been looking over my head to gather the lost ones, the prodigals who have strayed from the church because of disagreement with her precepts or dissent from her standards. And while I understand that this is the goal of evangelism, and that the pope as the head of the international church is in the “business” of bringing souls into the family business, I can’t help but feel that some of the steps that he has taken are off-putting to those of us who accept the beauty and grace of what we were taught from infancy.
The idea that Pope Francis is the greatest prelate in modern times is one that many in the secular world, and some in the religious world, have embraced wholeheartedly. Perhaps it is because his style is warm and welcoming, and his attitude of tolerance seems designed to spread the holy message to those who might otherwise close their ears against it. To them, being all things to all people and having a large tent is more important than emphasizing certain core, eternal principles.
I would respectfully suggest that they are both incorrect on the merits of that argument, and incorrect in their perception of Pope Francis. While I do think that he is more open to accepting human frailty as a given and trying to bring forgiveness rather than chastise those who fall short, the idea that Pope Francis is in any way changing fundamental church doctrine is erroneous.
He has talked about streamlining the process through which annulments can be obtained, but he has not said that annulments are good things in and of themselves. He has made it easier for women who have had abortions to seek absolution, but he has not said that abortion is not sinful. In fact, he has made it quite clear that it is the greatest sin that one human being can commit, an outrage against nature and humanity. He has said “Who Am I To Judge” when discussing the issue of homosexuals in the church, but he has not said that homosexual acts are now forgiven, much less accepted.
What Pope Francis has done is to try to shift the focus of Catholic debate to how do we make people feel welcomed and loved, as opposed to how do we make them aware of their sinful nature. The tone has changed, and it is a monumental shift to those of us in the pews. But the fundamental doctrine has not.
That is why I think it is far, far too soon to anoint Pope Francis as the greatest prelate in modern history. He has brought a happier expression to a weathered face, one battered by scandal and hostility, and yes, discrimination.
But it remains to be seen if his outreach to the lost will strengthen the church, or alienate those who never wandered off in the first place.Christine Flowers is a proud, lifelong
Catholic and an immigration lawyer in