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).
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?