I’ve mentioned here before my feelings about change. Basically, it’s hard for me. I don’t even know if it’s that I dislike it; it’s mostly just that when I really like the way things are, and something is going to be different, I get really worried about it– even if it could be really great. For example, when I move my furniture around, I immediately regret doing it and kind of freak out. Even though I end up liking it even more.
That’s normal, right?
So what does this have to do with Benedict and Francis? I think you can guess.
I’m feeling a little guilty because I miss Benedict. And I know I’ll love Francis — I already do — but seeing someone else in white is weird and I kind of wish I could rewind things and have my Benedict back.
Every time someone says something about Francis, I immediately want to defend Benedict. And sometimes it is meant as an insult to Benedict, but most of the time it isn’t. They’re just different.
It’s funny, I was writing this post in my head when I read my friend Jenny’s post this morning, (see her awesome post here) and then Lino Rulli and Father Rob were talking about a similar thing on the Catholic Guy show today, too. They pointed out that when someone says something positive about Francis, it sounds like it’s an insult to Benedict.
Even if it’s not meant to be!
So I suppose that in this post, when I speak about my feelings about Benedict and Francis, it will sound the opposite – that I’m insulting Francis. But I’m not, no more than they’re insulting Benedict. Capito?
With that in mind, here are my thoughts.
I am excited to see what is in store for the Church. I think Francis is going to challenge people who think they know what the Catholic Church is all about. We’ve already seen that he has a desire to bring unity, and it seems that the world is rather captivated by him for the time being.
Francis is obviously emphasizing the need for the Church to be poor and humble, to care for God’s gifts, and to be good stewards. I find it kind of funny that Benedict said the same things (here, & here, & here, & here, & here, & here, & here, & here… need I go on?) but everyone is acting like this is somehow a new phenomena.
Is it because the world is still listening to this baby Pope, and they haven’t tuned him out yet? Probably. Is it because he’s speaking off the cuff and seems to be more relatable? Perhaps. Is it because he’s living it out, by not wearing red shoes, wearing simple vestments, and riding the bus with the cardinals? Sure.
In regards to that last one, I think we need to examine what Pope Francis is doing. Do I like the fact that he’s not wearing red shoes and that he’s wearing simpler vestments? I have mixed feelings.
First, I can see that he wants to live a simpler life. And maybe the world won’t accept a message of poverty from a man wearing gold vestments. But even Jesus allowed money to be spent on him (Mt 26:11). As long as it’s not to the neglect of the poor (which it isn’t – the Church does more for the poor than any other institution in the world, and the Vatican isn’t buying new gold vestments, after all), Jesus deserves the best. The liturgy is Heaven on earth, and the Pope and the Cardinals are successors of Peter and the Apostles.
So are red shoes the be all and end all? No. But is Jorge Bergoglio just Jorge Bergoglio anymore? No. He’s Peter. And while the shoes don’t make the man, there are certain things he’s going to have to do because he’s no longer his own. He’s going to have to live in the Apostolic palace, behind the walls of the Vatican, because that’s where he’s safest and can govern the best, and that’s where Peter lives. Is he going to like it? Probably not. Benedict probably didn’t either.
Did Benedict want to sneak out of the Vatican and go do what he wanted to do? Of course he did. He wanted to go back to his coffeeshop, the place he went to every morning as Prefect of the CDF. Could he? No. Why? Because he wasn’t his own anymore. He was Peter, and he was carried “where he did not wish to go.” (John 21:18) Maybe he didn’t want to wear red shoes. But it’s the tradition (I know, I know, John Paul wore brown shoes. But I’m only using the shoes as an example- they’re not really the point) and the Church has a right to her traditio.
What the Pope does he does not as Wojtyla, or Ratzinger, or Bergoglio. He does it as Pope.
What the Pope does has an impact on the entire Church — for good or for ill. Pope Francis wanted to wear simple vestments at his installation, and that’s fine, but he has to remember that he’s standing as Peter and everyone will look to him for an example. To tell you the truth, I thought it was sort of jarring to see him next to the Orthodox patriarchs in their finery. I’m sure the world thought it was a good change — get rid of the finery and bring me a simple Church — but as I mentioned before, the liturgy is worth more than anything in the world, and Heaven on earth deserves gold. Even St. Francis believed that.
Second, he is now a world leader. I didn’t think of this before someone at work mentioned it, but the Holy Father rides in a car with an escort for a reason. Riding on a bus with cardinals is great (and it certainly was an awesome photo), but he has to make sure he doesn’t endanger his life or the lives of people around him with his boldness. I’ve been in St. Peter’s Square with a lunatic who could have harmed the Pope and any number of us. It wasn’t a good situation. The Church needs him, and the guards are there to protect him.
I don’t want this to sound like a giant critique of our Holy Father, because I really do love him and I am excited for the future. I am sure that Benedict isn’t sitting in Castel Gandolfo wondering why no one listened to him like they’re listening to Pope Francis. haha. Instead, I think he’s probably praying in Castel Gandolfo in thanksgiving for such a beautiful and holy shepherd.
Benedict stepped down in humility and Pope Francis stepped up in humility.
They worship the same Master and they serve the same People of God.
So when I read statements like this one: “His abrupt change in style from the previous pontificate has overwhelmingly charmed the press and the public.” I just don’t know how to take it. Let’s just be careful that we don’t assume Benedict loved living in the Apostolic Palace, never wanted to leave, ate off gold plates, and never wanted to be with people. We can embrace Francis as Francis without judging Benedict as Benedict. I’m sure they went through a similar transition between Pius XII and John XXIII. The Popes are men with different personalties, different strengths, and different weaknesses. That’s the beauty of the Church.
Let us pray for Pope Francis, for Benedict, and for our Church in these comings weeks and years.