The deeper I go into my theological studies, the more I am at peace with the Church. My peace does not come from the knowledge of men, but from the reality that the Holy Spirit is at the helm. It is easy to get dragged into outrage because of pockets of corruption and the sins of the people within the Church. The Pope said this, a Cardinal did that, a heterodox priest is now working in the Vatican. I think the truth is always somewhere in the middle and if people are truly interested in giving up their outrage, they will stop reading reports from the mainstream media on the Church. It is impossible for a secular world to understand the Church. They view us as a bureaucratic institution, rather than the Mystical Body of Christ that is animated by the Holy Spirit.
It seems in some of my dealings with people in social media, that Catholics are forgetting who we are and who we are not. It seems that many respond strongly to Pope Francis because they have forgotten the mission. I don’t agree with everything the Pope does, but I don’t feel the need to rant and rave about it. He is human and most of the time is not acting infallibly. I am not the Pope. I don’t know what goes on in his head most days. I am sure it is a daunting task to lead a Church of 1.2 billion Catholics as well as try to evangelize the other 5 billion people on the planet. He is probably learning as he goes just like all of the other Popes. He will make mistakes and while we are not obliged to agree with him, we are still required to treat him with the dignity and respect that is given the Vicar of Christ. We are also called to consider his non-infallible statements.
I think that many people would breathe easier if they studied more Church history. There have always been heretics, sinful, and corrupt people within the Church, even at high levels. There have been periods of great violence and Popes who were martyred or exiled for the faith. Pope Martin I comes to mind here. The world has always been upside down. I have no doubt that there are heretics and heterodox clergy in the Vatican. It’s always been so, whether Arian, Monophysite, Monothelite, Nestorian, Gnostic, etc. When we focus on this fact and allow it to overwhelm our faith then we are acting as the secular world does. We forget who is in charge of the Church, who guides the Church, and who is perfecting the Church. We also forget that even in the face of great corruption, the Church’s doctrine has been preserved. In a thorough and honest reading of Church history the only explanation that she has not been destroyed is that the Holy Spirit is keeping her on course. The Church never should have made it out of the catacombs, let alone throughout the world.
We need to accept that we are not the Pope and most of us lack the holiness, insight, experience, or understanding to lead the Church. Sure it would help if things were more articulate at times, but we can’t get bogged down by distortions and mistakes. We need to live the mission. The mission is to bring the Good News to the world. That is what Pope Francis is doing. He is bringing us back to the center: Jesus Christ. I am a student theologian. I love theology and most specifically the works of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. I understand him, as much as anyone can understand his brilliance. That being said, I get what Pope Francis is doing. He is bringing us back to the core so that we can convert souls on the issues of our day. I look to him for guidance in holiness rather than great works of theology or philosophy. Although, I have read both Lumen Fidei and the Joy of the Gospel and they are insightful works in which we could learn a lot. His mission is different from his predecessors. People are not typically converted by a great argument against abortion or “gay marriage”. They are converted by a real encounter with the Risen Lord. That is where we begin. The rest will fall into place.
So what will bring us peace of mind within the Church? I don’t mean apathy or willful ignorance. I mean peace. The kind of peace that only comes from trusting the Most Holy Trinity. First, accept that we are not the Pope. Second, accept that fallen men and women are within the Church. Third, read more Church history. Fourth, pray for the Church and her leaders. Fifth, stop reading mainstream media reporting on the Church. Sixth, pray for humility. Seventh, continue on the path to holiness, Eighth, trust in the Holy Spirit. TRUST, and Ninth, most importantly, live the mission. Let’s bring Christ to the world. Our bickering hinders the mission.
While we are not required to accept every statement by the Pope, we do need to stop flying off the handle at every word he utters. Our own panic only enlivens the secular world. Yes, the world is in a bad place right now, but it’s always in a bad place. Our age has the same level of evil as previous ages, we just have more powerful weapons. Here’s a thought: Listen to Pope Francis and watch his actions. What is he trying to teach us prideful people? Pope Francis is not leading as a theologian or philosopher like our last two popes. He is leading from the simplicity of the very Early Church. It is Christ Risen that is the great mystery and hope of the Church. When we come face-to-face with Jesus Christ, when we love Him, He gives us the grace to overcome sin. He helps us with our battles and with the lies of the culture. We need Him first before we can combat the evil of our age. We have to stop putting the cart before the horse. In the end, that is what Pope Francis is teaching us. If we are angry or frustrated by that fact, then the issue is not our Pope, it is us.
**I am stunned, humbled, and amazed at the response this piece has generated. Thank you for reading. I have written a follow up, which can be found here.