Don’t Put His Views In a Political Box.  What The Media Are Missing About Pope Francis.

  New Republic

“We in the press are about to over-politicize his visit to America,” writes New York Times columnist David Brooks.

How right he is.

The media are awash with bland, secular generalizations. The trumpets of left and right are already at blaring with either praise or denunciations of the Pope’s message.

House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Pope Francis to address Congress “will be at his own party’s expense,” declares Brian Beutler in the increasingly hardline liberal journal “New Republic.”

In a scathing article, curmudgeon conservative George Will blasts The Pope for “his woolly sentiments that have the intellectual tone of fortune cookies.”

  The New York Post

But comments from both sides that seek to put the Pope in a box miss this importance of his message and above all, his example.

American Catholics don’t fit neatly into frames tethered to snippets extracted from a hugely complex spiritual leader,” writes conservative Catholic Ashley McGuire. As “a capitalism-loving, pro-life advocate who is quite possibly obsessed with abortion, I could not be more excited to welcome Pope Francis to America.

Regardless of political affiliation, many Americans appreciate the Pope’s emphasis on love and mercy over dogma and orthodoxy. 

He is humble and a warm presence in world of snarky pundits and fiercely opinionated politicians. As a Jesuit, Francis takes his vow of poverty seriously. He believes we can learn from the poor. His heart is with those who suffer and are in need.

As a devout Catholic he understands how symbols send a message. After arriving at Andrews Air Force Base and being greeted by President Obama and Vice President Biden, the Pope hopped into a small Fiat instead of the usual large limo reserved for dignatories.

He says the church should be “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out in the streets,” instead of being unhealthy “from clinging to is own security.

As Gerald Seib points out in The Wall Street Journal, this Pope is a disrupter: “in sync with the dissatisfaction with the status quo” and also recognizing that The Catholic Church establishment has lost its way.

Many of us like leaders who would shake things up. Think Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. This Pope challenges the existing order. An overwhelming majority of American Catholics approves of what he’s doing.

“I don’t think the categories Left and Right are very useful for understanding the Pope,” says theologian and papal expert Lawrence Cunningham of Notre Dame.

On some social matters he is deeply conservative. “Francis unflinchingly maintains the church’s ancient teaching about the sanctity of human life and total opposition to abortion,” writes Timothy Carney in a highly perceptive piece in The Washington Examiner.

“Although he has urged Catholics to drop their “obsession” with such issues, Francis would also stand with his predecessors against gay marriage. In fact, he clashed with the Argentinian government when it was expanding marriage to include same-sex couples.”

“On economics, Francis would look more like a Democrat than like a Republican, but so would his “conservative” predecessors,” writes Carney.

On the environment he has been more outspoken than those who came before him. But with rising carbon levels in the atmosphere and a growing sense among global leaders that action is required, the need is greater than it was years ago.

Fact is, whether  we’re conservative, liberal or independent, most of us like the guy.

“Pope Francis is an extraordinary learner, listener and self-doubter,” says David Brooks. “The best part of this week will be watching him relate to people, how he listens deeply and learns from them, how he sees them both in their great sinfulness but also with endless mercy and self-emptying love.”

 

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Pope Francis: Truly Radical

London –

There ‘s nothing quite like travel to change my mind.

One of the joys of being over here in England is to read the British press (there are at least 9 daily national newspapers) and listen to the BBC.  The art of conversation is highly prized and a crucial part of a rich and very old tradition of rhetoric and dialog.

What’s striking is how many parallels there are between what Americans are talking tabout and what’s front and center in this green and pleasant land.

One example is the buzz about the new Pope. Although most Brits gave up on organized religion years ago there is great chatter about the new guy at the Vatican. Suddenly The Church is relevant again.

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(photograph by Catholic Church England and Wales)

Catholics are going through a remarkable time of change, brought on by a man who was elevated to the papacy by one of the most conservative electorates of modern times: the College of Cardinals.

Without actually breaking yet with any  outdated Church doctrines, Pope Francis has utterly altered the conversation.  His latest splendid salvo came this week in the Italian town of Assisi, where his namesake, Saint Francis, lived in the 12th Century.

“The Roman Catholic church, from the lowliest priest to the pontiff himself, must strip itself of all vanity, arrogance and pride and humbly serve the poorest members of society,”  The Guardian reports.  What a switch from the pomp and certainty of the recent past.

“There is a danger that threatens everyone in the church, all of us. The danger of worldliness. It leads us to vanity, arrogance and pride,” the Pope said in the place where Saint Francis stripped naked, turned his back on his wealth and possessions, and vowed to serve the poor.

“He has also said that Catholic convents and monasteries that are empty should be opened up to house migrants and refugees,” said The Guardian.

This new Pope with his emphasis on personal humility and financial transparency at the Vatican appears to be setting the Church on the course of meaningful reform.

He is a radical in the best sense of the word.

Many years ago my own father, during one of our many arguments over politics and morality reminded me of what that word really means. The dictionary definition, often forgotten in today’s feverish debates, is “going to the root or origin: fundamental.” Thanks Dad.