Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Pope and His Good P.R.

Pope Francis and his visit to the United States is something the Catholic church in America desperately needs. His visit and all the positive public attention that is going along with it is energizing folks that have felt ignored and disenfranchised from their belief system. Pope Francis is sending a message of inclusion and forgiveness.
Let’s talk about this pope.
He’s the product of immigrant parents, raised in a middle-class family. That is the same background of most people I know. My own parents were the product of immigrant parents, also middle class backgrounds.
Biographical publications say the Pope was a pretty normal kid who felt the pull of a religious calling in his late teens, to which his mother was adamantly opposed to his pursuit of such a calling. As a parent her concerns were mostly that he was too young to commit to a life long vocation such as the priesthood, and she wanted him to be a doctor.
Before he joined the seminary, he experienced lay life. To me, that sounds like a pretty practical and thoughtful thing to do.
That is my take on Pope Francis. He is practical and really good P.R. Afterall, he was on the cover The Rolling Stone!
Pope Francis has not radically changed any doctrine. The sacraments are still the same sacraments. Sin is still sin. Catholic priests are still only male.
But this pope is a practical man who has appeared to have taken a practical stance on modern life. People don’t live the same lifestyles as when the church became established over 2,000 years ago. He also acknowledged that some very bad things have been swept under the rug, with the hubris that the Mother Church is untouchable and must remain pristine and infallible.
In sending messages to the catholic priests, he has urged them to be like “Shepherds that smell of the sheep”. That is a pretty deep message and one that I hope runs through the ranks of clergy, starting with the Vatican hierarchy, because in my opinion, what few parish priests and nuns we have left today, already ‘smell’ like the rest of us.  During a diocesan re-organization, our home church was absorbed with another church, to create a new parish. The nuns of our church lost their convent residence and had to pool resources to buy their own convent residence outside of the newly formed parish. I thought that was pretty lousy.
I was raised Roman Catholic. The pomp and ceremony celebrating the liturgy was enchanting. The Latin Mass was melodic. I remember the difficult transition that many folks had with finally understanding what the priest said during mass. Some of the mystery had been stripped away.   In my adult years I’ve held on to spirituality in music during Mass as it enhances the liturgy, which is one of the reasons I was an active member in music ministry. My music participation helped me appreciate the message in the scriptures, but I parted ways, in thought, with the Church as some of the homilies began to take on tones that just didn’t ‘feel right’ to me.
Old Style Latin Mass
Everything was turned around, literally. The altar was turned around and now the priest celebrating the Eucharist faced the congregation and was speaking their native language. I was always in a choir and part of a generation that learned to sing in Latin and then some of those same hymns in English.

During my years at Little Flower High School, a catholic school for girls, I enjoyed some forward thinking nuns and a few priests, young and old, who did not hesitate to intuit that a strong opinion of dissent was not necessarily disobedience. I am grateful for that kind of teaching.
I want to believe that the message that Pope Francis is teaching is that we can disagree and still not be damned to eternal suffering. That has not been the Roman Catholic message for long time.
Organized religions have evolved with differences over generations. The common thread through most religions is we acknowledge a divine higher power in a supreme being and as human beings that we are to be kind, we are to be charitable and respectful to each other. That’s a pretty simple tenet, but organized religion has expanded with a whole bunch of rules and regulations that were originally implemented to maintain order and obedience, not necessarily in the name of a divine higher power.  
Change is uncomfortable. Pope Francis is teaching change but not in Catholic doctrine. I doubt that will happen in my lifetime.
I believe his message is that we should all be a shepherd, in one way or another, and be among the flock in a respectful and accepting way.
Sisters of Guadalupanas Eucaristicas del Padre Celestial
 in Philadelphia before Pope Francis' visit.
I pray this message is embraced by the Vatican hierarchy and the rest of the flock.

I also wish I would have seen more woman inside the Basilica instead of outside, like this nun.


  1. Joanne, I just loved this post. You spoke for a lot of people. I was a bit unhappy when he talked about needing Deacons that he didn't add, "It's time to let women be deacons." It would have been a start in the right direction, but for now, he is handling a larger monster, greedy corporations, churches and politicians.

  2. What an amazing post. Great thoughts, Joanne!