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Francis has shown us the human face of holiness in his first year

Radiating an absorption in the Gospel with unabashed simplicity is the Pope’s gift

By on Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Pope Francis (CNS)

Pope Francis (CNS)

There has been a spate of articles this last week examining every aspect of the first year of Pope Francis’s pontificate. Suffice to say, he has generated an enormous amount of publicity that goes well beyond his very public office. If you examine the media interest in the first year of the pontificates of both his immediate predecessors, you do not find this feverish interest.

John Paul II was also a relative unknown; he was seen as an intellectual heavyweight and a man of immense energy, ready to engage with the press – but he was not a “conversational” pope in the ordinary meaning of the word. Benedict XVI was already famous as head of the CDF. He carried his reputation before him and his papal style did not alter; shy, precise, learned, he remained an enigma to the secular world.

But Pope Francis is in sharp contrast to these recent popes. What causes a buzz of excitement in the media (and inspiration or dismay among his flock, depending on your viewpoint) is his very humanity and candour, his willingness to be personal, his admission of weakness. He has brought his exalted office down to earth in a way that hasn’t happened before. John XXIII started to do this: remember his joke when he was asked how many people worked in the Vatican? “About half of them,” he responded, with more than a grain of truth. But his pontificate was short and dominated by Vatican II and his last illness.

Now, and in answer to the implicit question, how has Pope Francis inspired (and intrigued) me during this first year, I would answer: he has shown the human face of holiness. To be able to radiate an absorption in the Gospel with an unabashed simplicity, is a difficult feat – most especially if you hold a position which means that the world’s eyes are on you at all times, waiting for a slip-up or gaffe. This is Pope Francis’s charism, his gift – and this is why the media, ravenous for news but also trying to decipher his personality, is paying attention to him.

Most of us, including popes, have a public persona, that aspect of our personality we present in public; it’s not dishonesty, merely an instinctive coping device. Pope Francis doesn’t seem to have this; he is always transparently himself, and has been since he first appeared on the balcony of St Peter’s: paying his own bill after his election, travelling in the bus with his cardinals, choosing to live in a community because he wanted the company, eschewing some of the usual trappings of papal dress.

Friends of Elizabeth II say she lost some of her spontaneity when she succeeded her father on the throne. This was inevitable: the private woman and the public Queen. With Francis there seems to be no distinction between the two. Every time I read his sayings, speeches and interviews this is more vividly brought home to me. For example, in the most recent interview with Corriere della Sera, reported by CNA, he explains one of the ways he keeps in touch with the pastoral aspect of his priesthood: he regularly phones an elderly widow who had lost a child. “She wrote to me. And now I call her every month. She is happy, I am a priest. I like it.”

Again, speaking of his relationship with Benedict XVI and why he doesn’t want the Pope Emeritus to live in permanent “retreat”, he explained: “I thought of grandparents and their wisdom. Their counsels give help to the family and they do not deserve to be in an elderly home.” Two brief remarks, giving a glimpse of Francis’s sense of his priestly vocation, how he needs affirmation from others, how the Church – enormous, venerable, bureaucratic (some would say sclerotic) – is also a family. Pope Francis’s conversational remarks are a catechesis all on their own.

In the same interview, the Holy Father added, “Depicting the Pope to be a sort of superman, a type of star, seems offensive to me. The Pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone. A normal person.” That is the key to him. We have put past popes on a pedestal, created a mythology around them (something the Pope has specifically rejected) and made their office lonelier than it should be. How do you stay “normal” in such an “abnormal” position? Pope Francis gives us the answer.

If I were asked my favourite anecdote (so far) of Pope Francis it would be the story he told when he addressing priests in the Rome diocese recently. Indeed, I found it so riveting I was amazed it did not receive wider coverage. The Pope broke from his prepared text (as he does) to tell how he had once taken a cross from the coffin of an Argentine priest he admired. “I looked at the rosary the priest was holding. And I thought immediately about the thief we all have inside us… I grabbed hold of the rosary cross and pulled it off, applying some force. At that very moment I looked at him and I said to him, ‘Give me half of your mercy,'” Francis told the priests, before adding that he has special pockets sewn into his shirts so he can keep the cross at his breast. “Whenever I have a bad thought about someone, I always place my hand here and I feel the grace,” he said.

It’s hard to take all this in: at first the open coffin (a tradition we no longer have over here) where the dead person is subliminally “present” at his wake; then the Holy Father’s acknowledgment of a very human acquisitiveness; then the impulsive deed itself; finally the demand of his dead friend’s own gift of mercy, along with Francis’s admission of a very human weakness – occasional unkind thoughts about others. It’s an electrifying, extraordinary, dramatic story.

I hope I will never get used to reading such heart-stopping personal anecdotes of our new Holy Father. As I said, they are a catechesis all of their own.

  • kag1982

    The only sins that the neo-traditionalists seem to worry about are sexual in nature.

  • Footsore Pilgrim

    So the definition of objective evil evolves, doesn’t it?

    Nope.

  • kag1982

    So in the 19th century slavery wasn’t objectively evil.

  • Footsore Pilgrim

    The Church has been condemning slavery for 2000 years.

  • kag1982

    Paul would disagree with you on that one. As would Augustine.

  • Tridentinus

    This has been happening over the last couple of centuries and is nothing new. There are Old Catholics, Polish National Catholics, American National Catholics numerous national Catholic Apostolic Churches. These have been going for decades if not centuries so the move is not actually going on at all. You ought to check your facts before rushing into print.

  • Tridentinus

    See my reply to Henry above. There are hundreds of them all over the world.

  • Tridentinus

    Everybody has an individual story and no one said they were heretical monsters, they are your words.

  • kag1982

    They certainly are being treated as such. It seems that they are being lumped into one category rather than being treated individually.

  • paulpriest

    Nothing to do with heresy but public sin – publicly expressed sin – i.e. continuing fornication and adultery.
    It’s not even the fact that they’re sinners – we all are – but at the beginning of mass we have a penitantial rite renouncing our sinful nature – publicly to all our neighbours and expressing a firm desire of amendment intention to not sin again…

    Don’t you see the problem?
    No of course not…

  • Tridentinus

    In your imagination. It is quite simple if they sin they sin there are no two ways about it. All Catholics are bound to follow the teaching of the Church why is it you are making exceptions for some and not others?

  • kag1982

    Because not all circumstances are the same; they all shouldn’t be lumped together. Take theft for instance.. A poor street kid in Rio might resort to pickpocketing to survive. That is completely different than a CEO embezzling money from his company. Both are considered theft, but there are degrees of theft.

    There are also differences associated with divorce and remarriage. No two failed marriages are the same. There are lots of reasons why someone might not have filed for an annulment. As I mentioned, the rules in the 1960s are different than the rules now, so there are probably many people who couldn’t obtain an annulment in the 1960s but could do so today. There is also the concern of lapses in time and fuzzy memories. Furthermore, a spouse might not decide to file for an annulment because it brings up bad memories or he or she might not want to contact a former spouse. The former spouse might use the annulment proceeding as an opportunity to continue a bloody divorce fight. The couple might have been young and emotionally immature, but it might be impossible to prove this using witnesses in a court setting. There are differences in level of preparation and help in parishes and dioceses and as in civil society, the rich and famous get better justice than the poor and middle classes.

  • kag1982

    Will you be encouraging mobsters to not present themselves for Communion? Or perhaps corrupt CEOs?

  • paulpriest

    …you’ve already asked that – I replied that no-one abjectly refusing to publicly renounce their sins and continue to obliviously perform them publicly CANNOT [without scandal and hypocrisy] present themselves…

    Now either you read my response and forgot it or are using the question as a rhetorical tool to try to win an argument with sophistry.

    Why are you here?

  • Tridentinus

    I know, I know, sad isn’t it.

  • Tridentinus

    Who wants to know who are the adulterers, the homosexuals, the philanders, the wife beaters, the child abusers, etc and why would they. God knows who they are and that is sufficient.
    If people want to live a life of serial adultery, homosexual activity, philandering, beating their wives or abusing children, etc why would they want to go to Church? Surely that is the last place they would want to frequent?
    You have some very strange ideas about the sort of people who go to Church.
    The Church is being left as it is, I am not trying to change it is those who are trying to get it to change its teaching who want it changed.

  • Tridentinus

    You simply don’t understand.

  • Tridentinus

    Sadly, you still don’t understand.

  • Tridentinus

    The latter, without a doubt.
    She enjoys winding up those whom she refers to as ‘traditionalists’, she has admitted as much on these boards. She doesn’t understand that Catholics by their very nature are traditionalists.

  • Tridentinus

    And the annulment tribunals are there to sort it all out for these people.
    The rich and famous such as Henry VIII?

  • Tridentinus

    I’m sorry that you are unable to tell the difference between the Divine Law and Church Law, both equally binding I might add as Our Lord bequeathed this power to the Church to make such laws.
    It is you who is in a muddle not me, I am quite clear of what is Divine Law and Church Law, the former cannot change because it comes from God that’s why it is referred to as Divine, the latter is made by the Church and can be changed or repealed by the Church so therefore it is not referred to as Divine Law although the Church’s authority to make it comes from God.
    I hope this clarifies things for you.

  • Tridentinus

    Oh dear, I’ll have to spell it out again. Kag1982 posted that there were several Churches in an archdiocese which were ‘no longer’ affiliated to the archdiocese. Anyone could see that she was implying that such secessions were a recent phenomenon such as the SSPX. I was merely pointing out that the implication was incorrect and that such churches had been around for a very long time and had nothing to do with the current schism which is being discussed on this thread. Even the SSPX is around 50 years old.

  • Tridentinus

    We must hope that Christ adopts the same approach at the Last Judgement.

  • kag1982

    And I gave you tons of reasons why people might not be able to file cases or why truthful cases would be denied. Do you really think that people are going to be able to easily find witnesses and evidence from a marriage that ended 20+ years ago.

    And by rich and famous, I mean the Kennedys, Newt Gingrich, John Kerry.. and lots of other important businesspeople, movie stars, and politicians. Henry VIII’s case was completely political; it wasn’t the Church upholding its moral law.

  • Tridentinus

    Couples are either married or they are not; if they are married then the Church cannot ‘unmarry’ them and allow them to marry someone else. Adultery is adultery. Of course, how the remarried regard their second unions depends upon their consciences but the Church cannot be seen to be aiding and abetting an adulterous relationship otherwise it would send a message to the Faithful either that marriage was no longer indissoluble or that adultery was no longer a mortal sin.
    For someone who wants to marry a second time they must prove that their first marriage was invalid. That is the only way.
    I can’t comment on other people’s annulments whether they be rich or poor.

  • kag1982

    How is someone supposed to prove that their first marriage, which ended twenty + years ago was invalid? Do you know lots of people in their forties and fifties who hang out with people they went to in high school? I certainly don’t. Not to mention the fact that there certainly seems to be a two tiered system of justice for the rich and famous and the poor and middle class. Doesn’t it bother you that the Church, which is supposed to be for the little guy, hands out annulments to the powerful like candy but it is much more difficult for Average Joe Catholic to get one. There are lots of problems with the current system, which fails to provide justice for the vast majority of people.

  • Footsore Pilgrim

    I gave you tons of reasons why

    Actually, you just posted some made-up “cases” that you allege to be supportive of your political views.

  • Footsore Pilgrim

    Paul would disagree with you on that one. As would Augustine.

    False.

  • Footsore Pilgrim

    The only sins that the kag1982s seem to worry about are sexual in nature.

    FTFY

  • Niklas Gutenburg

    As usual, a complete random irrelevance from Jabba!

  • Darren Mackay

    No, you clearly do not.

  • Footsore Pilgrim

    Woeful.

  • Alan40

    The words “I am not speaking of fornication” (JB) in that verse has always puzzled commentators, but it could very well refer to an invalidity in the marriage which can result in annulment. So Cardinal Kasper could well have in mind an easier availability of the annulment process.

  • Tridentinus

    If a marriage is invalid it is not a marriage so there is no problem.
    What Cardinal Kaspar advocates is on the one hand, that marriage be no longer considered indissoluble so remarriage after a divorce is permissable or that an adulterous relationship, a second marriage, is no longer mortally sinful. Either way he is contradicting the teachings of Christ.

  • Alan40

    I’m not sure that is what he advocates, but if it is, he is wrong. But if one party in a “marriage” turns out to be a wife-beater for example, I would say that is ample grounds for annulment, as it would be a case of marrying under false pretences. Perhaps the Church already accepts that.

  • Tridentinus

    If a marriage is valid at the time it takes place subsequent behaviour cannot invalidate it so there can be no annulment.

  • Alan40

    That’s obviously correct by definition. But I would argue that such a marriage, where the husband (say) hides his violent tendencies until he is married, was invalid from the beginning, because the wife had been deliberately deceived.

  • Tridentinus

    I agree if that were the case that would be up to the tribunal to decide. Any form of deception of one spouse by the other at the time of the marriage would normally invalidate it.

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    “With Francis there seems to be no distinction between the two. Every
    time I read his sayings, speeches and interviews this is more vividly
    brought home to me.”

    Distinction involves DIVISION……POLITICS, intellect taking charge.

    “YES for YES, NO for NO” of Jesus the Lord involves no such division or distinction. Here the Spirit is in charge.

  • Footsore Pilgrim

    the adulterers, the homosexuals, the philanders, the wife beaters, the child abusers

    What a strange parish you belong to …

  • aspiring lay capuchin

    Yes agreed to your title. But most of the approach is a change of style. Symbolic. Benedict was rather buttoned up/or buttoned down as the yanks say. This chappie is more emotional, spontaneous and befitting his South American teenage upbringing and working in the flavelas/slums