There’s been a great deal of talk about the Papal election, the “winner” Pope Francis, and comparisons of him and Pope Emeritus Benedict. Curiously, a whole lot of it is coming from those who aren’t even Catholic. Yet, I’ve found this happening over and over again with journalists who have no reservations about weighing in on a subject of which they clearly have no understanding.
The spiritual nature of the Papal election has been sufficiently distorted, and in egocentric manner, the US media has likened it to our own democratic process. The Catholic Church isn’t a democracy. To speculate on frontrunners and candidates that appeal to the people only works to discredit the already biased media, and substantiates the notion of a “media circus”. While there may be a power-hungry cleric here and there within the Church (we’re all human after all), the conclave is not a venue where Cardinals promote themselves amongst each other and vie for power.
The media talk of needed reforms within the Church and desires for a more “liberal” Pope stem from the lack of real understanding about what the Church teaches and why its members believe as they do. Catholics believe that Truth is unchanging. Because of that, doctrines are also unchanging. The teachings of the Church rarely, if ever, align with the shifts in popular culture. It is inaccurate to characterize Catholic clergy as “liberal” or “conservative”. All faithful Catholics are united in what they believe, and it has nothing to do with politics. The Pope’s job, then, is to shepherd his flock in accordance with the unchanging Truth. So when it comes to the selection of a Pope, any discussion of “candidates”, “liberals”, “conservatives”, “winners”, or “losers”, is simply a show of hot air for the rest of us. The good news is that membership in the Catholic Church is completely voluntary. Those who don’t subscribe to its thinking need not apply…or opine.
There is something much greater at work than all of us can comprehend when a Pope is elected. To minimize that aspect and make light of the Supernatural process that Catholics know to be at work is as ignorant as…oh, maybe…blaming a youtube video for an attack on a US consulate.
Pope Francis has the media grasping for straws. They want to like him, not because they embrace his beliefs, but because he embodies something they can use. In tireless efforts to vilify the white man as a symbol of privilege, they have found characteristics of this Pope which can help them to advance their own dogmas. Our new Pope hails from South America and champions the poor to boot. However, the fact that prior to his election he has been quite outspoken against abortion and homosexuality presents a quandary. The glass slipper, or red Ferragamo shoe, if you will, doesn’t quite fit. Not for the media, at least.
But to promote their agenda, the media has focused on that which they can use to their advantage: the Pope’s embrace of the poor. “Refreshing”, they call it. A “reformer” they call him–as if the Catholic Church, since it’s beginning hasn’t worked tirelessly to serve the poor. Early Church fathers through our present day leaders have always taught about our obligations to the poor:
Let the strong take care of the weak; let the weak respect the strong. Let the rich man minister to the poor man; let the poor man give thanks to God that he gave him one through whom his need might be satisfied.
Clement of Rome, 1st Century
Christians love one another. They do not overlook the widow, and they save the orphan. The one who has ministers ungrudgingly to the one who does not have. When they see a stranger, they take him under their own roof and rejoice over him as a true brother, for they do not call themselves brothers according to the flesh but according to the soul.
Aristides, early 2nd century
You are not making a gift of your possession to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.
Ambrose of Milan, 340-397.
True, no one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for his own needs and those of his household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly his condition in life, “for no one ought to live other than becomingly.”(13) But, when what necessity demands has been supplied, and one’s standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over. “Of that which remaineth, give alms.”(14) It is a duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity – a duty not enforced by human law. But the laws and judgments of men must yield place to the laws and judgments of Christ the true God, who in many ways urges on His followers the practice of almsgiving…” -Pope Leo XIII, On Capital and Labor (Rerum Novarum), 1891, paragraph 22
“[Solidarity] then is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.” –Blessed Pope John Paul II, On Social Concern (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis) ,1987, paragraph 38
“..love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, [are] as essential to [the Church] as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word.” –Pope Benedict XVI, God Is Love (Deus Caritas Est), 2006, paragraph 22
In our current day, Catholic agencies exist to put into action what our faith teaches about helping those in need (think: Catholic hospitals, St. Vincent DePaul collection centers, Catholic Relief Services, a great many Catholic homeless shelters and food pantries, Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity [in addition to all the other orders of priest and nuns who serve the needy], Caritatis Internationalis, and the Catholic Charities agency, to name a very few. Try a Google search of “Catholic relief agencies” or “Catholic homeless shelter” and see just how many results pop up.
So, there you nave it. Catholics have always been taught to serve the poor. The secular media, however, distorts this fact. They insist that Pope Francis is a Catholic anomaly. And to add insult to injury: in their efforts to laud him, they also insist on skewering the legacy of Pope Benedict, without any regard for the fact that this servant of God, beloved by faithful Catholics, is still alive.
I pray that I am wrong, but I foresee a media attempt to further politicize the poor and convince the world that Pope Francis is revolutionary in his love for them. The Pope’s love and concern will be magnified to such a point of elevating the poor and disparaging everyone else who doesn’t qualify under that label. The end result? An even larger wedge of misunderstanding and resentment driven further between the “haves” and “have nots”. Turn the poor against those who have shown them great love, and fuel the fire of discontent between conservatives and liberals.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
That’s my two cents, anyway. We’ll just have to wait and see, and hope that I’m completely wrong.