It’s not a secret around here that I struggle with being a member of the Catholic Church. I have a few problems with how they handle themselves and what they preach publicly, but the final tipping point came about a year ago and centered around marriage equality. You can read more about it here or here. I won’t bore my regulars with the whole tale again.
What I want to talk about today is our new Pope. I only know as much as some of you-all that I can learn from google. I also don’t pretend to be an expert (or even close) on the entire process of choosing him or what his role will be in the future. So, let’s be clear, if you want to slam me in comments for not knowing things, you’ll have a field day. Just know this post isn’t about what I know, rather what I feel. Feeling and Faith are what have driven my religious decisions since the day I was old enough to make them.
I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t very interested in the process this time around. For the last time, I taught at a Catholic School so it was conversation every single day. We got all hyped up about it and then when the white smoke came I had to sit in front of my 8th graders and bite my tongue about how I wasn’t happy with the decision at all. I felt I couldn’t be honest with them. Their parents were paying for Catholic education. It wasn’t my place to share my disappointment in the Catholic Church.
So this time, I didn’t pay much attention. Not even because I expected a similar let down, but really because I didn’t care.
Then, yesterday on a train ride home I heard the news via twitter that there was white smoke. What happened next surprised me. I began frantically looking for more information. I wanted to know who they chose. I had a feeling maybe this was big. When the information peppered in, all from social media, my heart started racing. An Argentinian. The name Francis. A Jesuit.
These three small tidbits filled me with something I haven’t had around the Catholic Church is quite some time: hope.
I raced home, turned on every media outlet I could and watched as he humbly came forth in white robes, perhaps cracked a joke (I don’t speak Italian, but it seemed everyone laughed, no?) and then uttered the name Francisco. Truth? I cried. I honest to God cried.
Then the next wave of news came. He’s vehemently opposed to marriage equality and even spoke out against same-sex adoption as abuse against children.
Talk about a quick deflate. I was ready to throw up my hands and give up.
Then I saw all of this conversation on twitter about why people are Catholic. For the most part, it was civil conversations instead of hate-filled from either side.
What struck me about all this was not the volume and the civil nature of the discussions, thought that was pleasantly surpsrising, what really struck a chord though was how many people were Catholics.
It’s funny, I seem to know more lapsed Catholics than active ones these days or I know a lot of practicing Catholics that don’t agree with much of what the Church preaches. So to see all these people that I admire as being outspoken advocates and incredible people talk about their Catholic faith was a bit shocking. It got me thinking…what if?
I remember when Pope John Paul II died the stories were all about how great he was and how far our church had come during his tenure. I didn’t disagree necessarily, but I couldn’t help but think of my brother who always says, “everyone’s a saint after they die”. It felt a bit like Ronald Reagan to me.
Ronald Reagan died and suddenly he was a Great American Hero and we forgot anything bad that happened during his time in office. That never sat right with me, because while he made great strides in some areas, in my house we’d never forget what went down during the Reagan years because they went down directly on my dead father’s Veteran benefits and the social security his children never saw, for reasons still unclear to everyone. Reagan’s fault? Maybe not, but the fact remains my opinion on his Greatest American Hero status is quite different than many others’. Just as my opinions on Reagan differ, I’m certain there are countless survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church during his reign who might view JPII as less than saintly.
No one is perfect, except God, right?
Which brings me back to Pope Francis I. My initial excitement was justified. Humility and a bend toward ridding the world of poverty are not to be dismissed. Forgoing a mansion and all the trappings of Cardinal for an apartment and public transportation? Not a small thing. Cardinals choosing a non-white, non-European should not be discounted. And the name Francis? Everyone in my book of Catholic Saints with that name represents exactly the reasons I’m proud to call myself Catholic. My devotion to One is the sole reason I have hung around for so long.
Let’s not forget Jesuit. Known for inquiry, self-reflection, education, and AMDG (look it up) the only better choice in my book would have been Franciscans themselves. So these are all positives. All steps forward. I’m not taking away the fact that he’s vehemently opposed to marriage equality. This is a huge problem in my eyes.
But I’m not certain it’s the reason to give up, quit, or even more-leave. Many of the comments, both on Twitter and Facebook, were from people who were either lapsed or barely practicing Catholics. And there were many comments and they were loud. One in particular struck me. A woman said it was not for the Pope that she was Catholic, but rather for Transubstantiation, Love of Mary and appreciation for Confession-all integral parts of the Catholic Church. It seems call herself Catholic, not because of the Pope or even in spite of, but rather because the Papacy isn’t as relevant to her as faith and she wasn’t afraid to speak out about it.
You know what I notice about my devout Catholic friends? They’re loud. They’re not afraid to share what they love about the Church. They’re not afraid to speak of their faith to others. Agree or not with what they have to say, there is no denying that they will say it.
I began to think, what would happen if all of these people commenting today, about the Pope, would speak up this much from the inside? I mean, it’s tough to win a fight when you aren’t engaged except for outside the ring. Martin Luther started an entirely new religion when he spoke up and left. What might happen if we all spoke up and stayed?
I know you’re out there. You comment on my posts and you have conversations among yourselves. I know I’m not alone in this struggle between my disagreements and my desire not to leave. Why are we all so quiet about it?
What if we stay and teach the next generations, instead of leaving, to stay and do it differently. What if we’re currently raising (in our homes or in the church community) future Sisters and Cardinals that will stand up and speak out from a higher pulpit someday? What if, instead of waiting for the right guy to be chosen to change things, we’re being called to change it ourselves in the ways that we can. What if the forward steps of this current Pope are just what we need to run even further ahead, as a community?
After all, wouldn’t it be more productive for Brad and Angelina to petition officials and speak loudly instead of just waiting to get married? Let’s not be Brad and Angelina. What if, instead of waiting on the sidelines for the Church to change, or worse, just leaving it altogether-convinced it never will, what if we use the power we have based on sheer numbers and take this opportunity to move the matter of change into the hands of those who seek it most?
I’m not sure the Catholic Church’s stance on the issue of Marriage Equality will change during my lifetime. But, I’m quite certain that if I leave and don’t stick around to fight for my church, it probably never will.
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I had a strong intuition that this conclave was going to shake out in an interesting way, although maybe that was just wishful thinking since it’s the first one to happen since I converted (with all my qualms about the Church in full effect). I’m a fan of the Jesuits, and an even bigger fan of St. Francis. I hope that the spirit that guided the new Pope to the Jesuit order, and to the selection of Francis as a papal name, will also guide him to an open-mindedness that we’ve previously not seen in a successor of Peter. In the US, Jesuits have a reputation for being “barely Catholic” – i.e. more socially liberal than their diocesan brothers. I’m not sure if that’s true globally. Certainly Pope Francis’ previous statements about same-sex marriage and the role of women in the church sound less than liberal, even if you allow that some of the spirit of the comments might have been lost in translation. But in the end… the Pope’s opinion on these matters doesn’t really sway mine. It’s much more important that the state of Maryland approves of same-sex marriage than it is that the Pope does. My approach to any organization I’ve belonged to is to improve it from the inside, start with being true to myself and then see how I can make the organization better. I feel the same way about the Church. AMDG. 🙂
I have no good response to this. You said everything so perfectly, all I have to reply with is, Yep.;)
Julie Knapp says
As a Christian (Catholic turned Methodist), I am saddened when people use religion to spread hatred and bigotry. There is a line in the prayer attributed to the pope’s namesake, St. Francis:
“Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” Wish that was the case.
Can’t help posting the entire prayer here:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
Julie Knapp says
(BTW, I realized last night that I didn’t actually say that this statement was in agreement with you! Wasn’t saying that you were hating. It saddens me that people are not given rights in the name of God or the Bible….)
Thanks. I was worried for a quick second that you thought that. I was thinking how did I screw that message up!!:)
My favorite Julie. We had it printed on my mom’s funeral cards. I carry it with me everywhere and try every day to reflect on it as a way to figure out how to live my life. I can’t say I do it well, but I try. It’s always ok to print the whole prayer here!
First of all, what a great and brave article! And to be honest, I have had very similar thoughts to you since Francis stepped out on to that balcony and greeted the crowds with a “buona sera” (and no, he did not make a joke when he started speaking but he came across as very open, friendly and down-to-earth and that simple “buona sera” made people laugh).
I am not a Catholic so only followed the election of the new pope on the sidelines (despite being in Rome at the moment). There seemed to be no particular frontrunner and none of the potential candidates’ names meant anything to me. Deep inside I just hoped the new pope would come from outside of Europe (change is good in my view) and be more open, less conservative and ready to take the Catholic church into the future.
So, like you, I was incredibly disappointed to hear about Francis’ stance on marriage equality and adoption. My boyfriend pitched in that Francis is just following what the bible taught us on what constitutes a “family” but for me that is not enough – the bible might include the “eye for an eye” rule yet this is not what we practice today to punish crimes (instead we try to undo the damage or compensate for losses). Equally then I see no reason why we cannot depart from the antiquated views of what constitutes a family contained in the bible. In particular when that means treating human individuals equally and allowing everyone the same right to a loving family. Same goes for the adoption issue. And at that rate, I don’t even want to know where he stands on abortion.
I Love This: “the bible might include the “eye for an eye” rule yet this is not what we practice today to punish crimes (instead we try to undo the damage or compensate for losses). Equally then I see no reason why we cannot depart from the antiquated views of what constitutes a family contained in the bible. In particular when that means treating human individuals equally and allowing everyone the same right to a loving family.”
Thank you for sharing. Say hi to Rome. I wish I was there with you!
I saw this post through a mutual facebook friend. I want to preface by saying I am a happy Catholic, but accept that there are many paths to God (and I learned more about inter-religious dialogue from the conservative Benedictines than from anyone else). I don’t believe a person living life to the best of his/her understanding, within or without a particular faith, will get turned away from the pearly gates. But in this age of materialism, instant gratification, and “what can you do for me” expectations, I think many forget what the Catholic faith is meant to be. In particular, people forget that the Catholic Church is a theocracy, not a democracy. I have zero problem if someone doesn’t agree with that and chooses not to be Catholic. But for those who do choose Catholicism, they are accepting the challenge of understanding the teachings of a theocratic religion. JFK, despite his personal faults, couldn’t avoid his Catholic upbringing; his most famous quote, “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”, was directly influenced by, and could be equally applied to his Church. It is not a religion that is supposed to cater to the whims of the individual and match every cultural tide. WE are supposed to serve God though the Church. Now, the problems with human frailties in any institution is a whole nuther chapter 🙂
I’m not sure I agree, although quite honestly I’m not sure I disagree.;) I think choosing the church doesn’t mean you have to accept the church foibles and unchangeable. After all, if that were the case we might still have crusades and be paying for our forgiveness of sins. I happen to think that some of what is wrong, or more accurately, some of what I (and many others) disagree with is akin to the problems that were changed by earlier reformers. You’re right, it’s fine if people want to leave, but I don’t think staying means quietly going along avoiding change.
I’d love another chapter on the “problems with human frailties” but I promise I will never be brave enough to take that on! THanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts. Dissenters always welcome.