The Pope Francis effect (or why I’m having a tough time)

I have a confession. I’m having a tough time adjusting to Pope Francis.

I admit that I’m a Pope Benedict XVI fan girl and I’m still getting over Pape Bene’s understandable departure. It’s like when your best friend moves far away and no matter how hard you try, you can’t help but compare all your other friends to him. Or when you’re at an extended family gathering and both your grandads are there and even though you respect both of them, you clearly prefer one over the other.

But it’s not just that. We can all agree that right after Pope Francis says something, articles, YouTube videos, and blog posts immediately appear trying to explain it. He’s like the relative that speaks and we wonder if we heard correctly. We’re all trying to interpret, clarify, justify, or put our own spin on his statements. It can be frustrating trying to make sense of it all. What’s My Line: The Pope Francis Edition is really trendy right now and everyone from the stay-at-home mom blogger to Fr. Z has jumped on the bandwagon.

He is who he is, tempered by life as he knows it, and to give him his due, he is the Holy Father of a church family of 1.2 billion people with diverse ideas, experiences, attitudes, and personalities. Like all extended families, there will always be tension and misunderstandings and he’s steering the barque of Peter through some pretty rough seas while the rest of us quarrel. I wouldn’t want to be in his [not red] shoes. Would you?

A major part of my discomfort is the bickering that his statements cause among the Catholic family. My perception is that of a line drawn between those who are head-over-heels in love with him and those of us who are not as enthusiastic.

I’ve read articles, commentaries, and Facebook posts that maintain a civilized, grown-up tone while debating his latest speeches and interviews. But then there are the less-reasonable comments that seem to be on the attack, whether for or against Pope Francis. The worst ones are the rants and responses that clearly show a lack of basic understanding of Catholic doctrine and teachings. They are the ones that are impossible to discuss. They do the most harm and drive a wedge between family members.

I know I’m rambling but I don’t think I’m alone in my thinking. I love our Catholic family, even when we fail to act charitably towards each other. We’re big and colourful and imperfect but we do a lot of good both inside and outside the family circle. Because there are so many of us, it’s understandable that we won’t always agree but we ought to turn down the volume and at least try to keep an open mind. We ought to learn more about the family history and read up on what older family members have written over the past 2,000 years so that when we have our spirited discussions, we’ll at least know what we’re talking about. Like all family histories, there’s the real one and the made-up one, so we have to be very careful who we read and listen to.

The Catholic Church is my home. I’d like to believe that I would lay down my life to defend Her. And I really want to do the right thing by Her. But what is the right thing?

A wise friend pointed out that no matter what is going on around me, no one can stop me from doing my work and saying my prayers. So that’s what I’m going to do, for the sake of our Catholic family.

My work consists in loving my neighbour (which includes difficult family members and Pope Francis) as myself. I don’t have to treat everyone like they’re my favourite brother or uncle or grandfather, but I have to respect them and recognize when to speak up and when to keep quiet.

And my prayer? I’m begging St. Joseph to look after Holy Mother Church and beseeching St. Michael the Archangel to defend Her. Most importantly, I’m taking the example of our Blessed Mother who teaches us the most valuable lesson in prayer. I’m holding on tight to Mother Mary’s hand, hiding beneath her mantle and quietly, steadfastly, and humbly repeating over and over again: “Thy Will be done.”

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