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?