Francis: The “Pope of Everyday Life”

Pope Francis has been on the job for six months now. So how’s he doing?

Some analysts peer through a typical American lens—poll results—to answer the question. According to a new Pew survey, eight out of ten American Catholics (and six out of ten Americans overall) view the Pope favorably. There’s no generation gap, as Catholics young and old like him equally well. And in spite of some attempts to paint Pope Francis as a progressive open to rethinking Church doctrines, the Pope’s largest fan base, if you will, is among Catholics who attend Mass weekly: 86% of them view him favorably (43% “very” favorably) compared to 74% of Catholics who attend church less often (33% “very” favorably).

Pope Francis Other analysts assess metrics—miles traveled, dignitaries hosted, and people appointed—benchmarks by which to compare this Pope to his predecessors. Or they assess how quickly the Pope has shaken things up at the Vatican, and wonder if it foreshadows a “revolution” or, in the words of National Catholic Reporter columnist John Allen, a “Catholic glasnost.” They note Francis’ ability to inspire Catholics (and non-Catholics) by his simplicity of life, his humble demeanor, and his love for the poor. Although the Church is still beset by scandals, Francis, in six short months, has captured the imagination of Christians across the world who see him as “the solution, not the problem.”

Even so, not all Catholics embrace Pope Francis as “the solution.” Damon Linker sounds a cautionary note in the New Republic, warning that “when progressive Catholics pine for change, they mostly mean that they want to see the Church brought into conformity with the egalitarian ethos of modern liberalism, including its embrace of gay rights, sexual freedom, and gender equality. And that simply isn’t going to happen. To hope or expect otherwise is to misread this Pope, misinterpret the legacy of his predecessors, and misunderstand the calcified structure of the Church itself.”

He’s right. (Mostly right anyway. The Church’s hierarchical structure shouldn’t be dismissed as “calcified.”) Pope Francis won’t change Church teaching.

But Linker still sees an upside to Pope Francis’ leadership: “Progressive Catholics appear to be left, then, with a revolution in papal rhetoric… Francis’s welcoming words and open hands have changed the subject of the papacy away from sexual decadence to the plight of the poor, and if that convinces those progressives to come home, he will have done a very good thing for his Church.”

Pope Francis has indeed done a very good thing for his Church, that is, for all of us: progressive, conservative, traditional, or ‘just Catholic.’ His focus on the poor is a call to conscience for all Catholics, labels aside. More profoundly, it expresses his larger theme: As Christ-followers, we must live a spirit of authenticity and radiate God’s mercy and love in every personal encounter.

For Francis, there is no Christianity, no doctrine, no truth apart from Christ, the God-made-man. We must follow Him. “Following Jesus, “ says Francis, “does not mean taking part in a triumphal procession! It means sharing his merciful love, entering his great work of mercy for each and every man and for all men. The work of Jesus is, precisely, a work of mercy, a work of forgiveness and of love! … Jesus, however, does not want to do this work alone: he wants to involve us too in the mission that the Father entrusted to him…’As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’”

Embracing the language and trappings of ordinary life, Francis’ signature style captures the attention of those who long ago shuttered their hearts against the voice of God. (There’s little risk, after all, in listening to a man who refuses to judge.) And it stirs the hearts of the faithful, moving us from apathy to action. His transparency, simplicity, and ordinariness make the Gospel message fresh and intriguing, worthy of a second—or deeper—look. He gives us “the daily challenge of rising above our own mediocrity and being true Christians where we live and to those we meet.”

Pope Francis is the “Pope of everyday life,” says the Catholic Herald (UK).

And so he is.

The “Pope of everyday life,” peppers his talks with analogies that resonate with the sights and sounds of our ordinary lives. He gently chides us to remember that confession “is not a dry cleaner, it is an encounter with Jesus.”

He challenges us to integrate faith with real life, saying “living faith does not mean decorating life with a little religion, as if it were a cake and we were decorating it with cream.” And he warns against the temptation of scheduling a ‘little religion’ into our lives as if it were a hobby or a part-time job. “We cannot be Christians part-time…If Christ is at the center of our lives, he is present in all that we do.”

Pope Francis insists that our Christian identity is not like holding an “identity card,” or “having a label.” Being Christian means “living and witnessing to faith in prayer, in works of charity, in promoting justice, in doing good.” “Being” begets “doing.”

But Francis also recognizes how easy it is to lounge in our “bubble” of comfort, insulating ourselves from those in need: “The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which … leads to the globalization of indifference… [we] become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!” Authentic Christians must reject such indifference.

Pope Francis, the “Pope of everyday life,” has been on the job just six months. But his message is clear: Depend on God’s mercy. Live God’s mercy. Give God’s mercy.

So how are we doing?

This column was first published by the Catholic News Agency, prior to the release of Pope Francis’ lengthy interview published in America, Sept 30, 2013.

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One thought on “Francis: The “Pope of Everyday Life”

  1. It seems odd that this was posted after 9:30 p.m. on September 19 and there was no mention of the publication of the lengthy interview of Pope Francis. Perhaps it was written earlier. I don’t disagree with a word of this column and I have been examining my own life in light of Pope Francis’ words. He has challenged all of us to examine how we live in light of what our faith expects of us. There were several quotes from his lengthy interview that I found resonated with me:
    “If one has the answers to all the questions — that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. … Our life is not given to us like an opera libretto, in which all is written down; but it means going, walking, doing, searching, seeing. … We must enter into the adventure of the quest for meeting God; we must let God search and encounter us. … If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal “security,” those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists — they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies. I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else — God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”
    And another quote:
    “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
    The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently …
    We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow. I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching.”
    All of this is so very true. Even with his comments on homosexualtiy, there was no departure from the Church’s teachings, but the focus of Pope Francis is on the person, and on mercy and love. He certainly had the opportunity when discussing the issue to remind the faithful that homosexual conduct is disordered and an abomination – but he chose not to. He chose instead to say that “[r]eligion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of the person.” Again, his focus – even as to the conduct of the person – is on mercy and love, and not condemnation. I welcome his message. I – and many Catholics like me – have grown weary of the punitive tone set by the U.S. Catholic Bishops on this and other issues. I do not expect Church teaching to change. I do expect, however, that my church leaders embrace and articulate the redemptive and loving side of Church teaching as well. I hope the Holy Father’s words will inspire our pastors and bishops to turn the focus to mercy and love, and challenge the faithful to turn their hearts in the same direction. I will indeed be examining my own. How ARE we doing? Thank you, Ms. Hasson.

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