Prosecuting the Pope
My husband is a very smart man. Whenever I come up with a new idea (aka hairbrained scheme) he asks me his trademark question: What’s the upside? It makes me think.
Applying this question never seems to fail. Sure, with anything we consider we need to think about the pitfalls as well, but if there is no discernible or demonstrable upside, then we probably shouldn’t waste our time considering it to begin with. We could save ourselves a lot of time and heartache.
I’m struck particularly by the endless Pope bashing and suspicion that seems to be rampant these days in the blogosphere. We’re used to it from the press and many that are anti-Catholic, but it seems lately to be coming even from the most devout Catholics and it makes me ask this question: What’s the upside of publicly questioning, criticizing or lampooning our Holy Father? I understand the confusion and consternation that’s out there. He seems to talk off-the-cuff frequently and his words are welcome fodder for those bent on changing Church teaching on important moral issues. The press is no friend of the Catholic Church, generally, and takes much out of context to lend seeming support to its agenda to undermine Church teaching. It seems those outside the fold love Pope Francis and the faithful regard him at best with suspicion or rolled eyes. But jumping into the fray with public criticism seems to me to have no real advantages.
So what might be the motivations? Well, for starters, we all like to be heard. We like to voice our opinions and be understood – respected even. Some like to pontificate, if you’ll pardon the cheap and obvious pun. Yet many are genuinely worried and want to defend what they know the Church actually teaches. As society degenerates further and further into godlessness, the mere appearance that the Church may be moving in that same direction is truly frightening. And so they take the bait and start the chatter. But what is there to really gain? More backbiting and division? Sowing more doubt among the faithful? Instigating a deeper distrust of God than already sadly exists?
Pope Benedict’s resignation was nearly unprecedented and was unsettling to many. Yet the election of Pope Francis was God’s will. I’m sure I’ll get some major blowback on that statement so please hear me out. I know there are many out there who, putting alleged private revelation above divine revelation, assume there will be an anti-Pope who will destroy the Church from within. Some even hold that the last few popes have been illegitimate. Alleged seers abound these days and many make dire predictions and proclamations. And too many of the faithful read them like the gospel, swallowing every horror-laden conspiracy theory and posting each piece of juicy “prophecy” on social media with comments to spare. It’s not healthy.
Here’s the thing about God’s will. It is always done in one way or another.
- God has His ordaining will – those things He wants us to do or wants to happen in the world. He wants world peace and for all of His children to live in harmony and love with their neighbors.
- Then there’s His permitting will – those things He clearly doesn’t want but allows to happen for a greater purpose in the end. He respects our free will and will not interfere with it, hence we have the mess in which the world currently finds itself. Those that rail against authority and blame all evil on God are often the same people who stubbornly push their own wills and agendas that are in clear opposition to God’s will as revealed in Holy Scripture and as taught by the Church established by Jesus Christ. The deceiver is very clever and is taking his cut on both ends as he foments such rebellion and identifies the One to Whom the rebellion is aimed as the culprit.
- God’s ordaining will and His permitting will are both expressions of His Immutable will and, through all of it, He wants and works out our good. He will not be outsmarted or outmaneuvered by his creatures or the devil (also one of His creatures). The idea is laughable. Like doctors once used leeches to cure their patients, God uses the devil and those who do his bidding in the same way to help and heal us in the long run. The worst evil ever perpetrated – creatures killing their Creator on a cross – became the very means of saving those very creatures. The chaos we’re experiencing now, which seems to be reaching a horrific crescendo, is not outside His control. Neither are the Pope’s comments, no matter how ill-considered they may seem to any of us to be.
Understand this: you’re allowed to wonder and even question what the Pope is saying or doing…just as you’re allowed to question any Church teaching. Questioning helps us to learn and to own the final answer. Simply going along like robots is not what God intends. If He did He wouldn’t have given us free will or intellects to even consider such questions. I know for me, asking questions in my twenties about teachings that made no sense to me was the best thing I ever did. It made me think. But as I thought I also prayed for enlightenment and understanding. That was key. Just questioning without prayer and a sincere desire to know God’s teachings and His will tend to lead only to hubris…and we already have an ample supply of that these days. The questions of a prosecutor are very different from that of a child trying to learn. The questions asked these days of and about our Holy Father are mostly those with a prosecutorial tone. They already distrust Him and are trying to catch and convict Him. Such questions get us nowhere and lead only to division. The multitudinous sects and denominations among Christians is sad enough. Do we really want to accommodate the evil one by turning on our Holy Father and one another?
So sure, wonder, scratch your head, question what the Holy Father is trying to communicate, discuss it with a priest or a friend…but remain faithful. Remain obedient. There is no evidence of Pope Francis, or any other Pope for that matter, changing Church teaching on faith and morals – none – despite all the rumors and speculation. Jesus promised that could not happen when the Pope speaks ex cathedra (from the Chair of Peter). When we don’t understand a particular teaching of Christ, or find some hard to follow, we are expected to be obedient as we work toward enlightenment. Assuming we know better, that until we understand it to our satisfaction we will not obey, is the ultimate pride and folly. The same rationale is in play here – God chose Pope Francis. He didn’t choose me or ask my opinion, or yours. He asks us to pray for the Pope and He desires that all His children be one, as He and His Father are one.
We’re a family – the Body of Christ, and just as publicly criticizing and questioning your husband or earthly father results in nothing more than disrespect and ultimate division, publicly chastising the Pope does the same, but on a larger scale with more devastating results.
There’s just no upside.
Art for this post on “Prosecuting the Pope”: An image of Pope Francis in Shadow Ink app, Annika Laas, 23 June 2016 own work; Modified detail of Stamps of Ecuador, 2015 [Pope Francis], Post of Ecuador, 2015, PD stamps of Ecuador; Detail of 1911 Courtroom in Chase County Courthouse, Imperial, Nebraska, Ammodramus, 22 July 2010 own work, PD-Worldwide; Chair of Saint Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica, 03.05.2008, Sergey Smirnov, CC; all Wikimedia Commons.