The Francis Effect

Apparently, it doesn’t take much to get Italians back to the Sacrament of Penance.

It’s the Bergoglio effect. While some scholars and websites – who were declared papists up until a month ago – continue to criticise the new Pope, whose sobriety in comparison to Benedict XVI has not gone down well with them, the wave of fondness for Francis has also not stopped.

This fondness is not down to a media infatuation: droves of people approached the sacrament of confession again at Easter, struck by Bergoglio’s words about forgiveness and mercy. Numerous Italian parish priests and ordinary priests can attest to this.

This is a nice surprise, naturally. But I’m not shocked by it. I think a rigid Catholic traditionalism, one too much focused on peripherals, was a spent exercise fifty or even more years ago. The resurgence always seemed artificial to me, an effort to wear the 21st century with a 19th century wardrobe. A costume ball at best.

What is most striking of all, of course, is that Pope Francis preaches best when he’s not employing words. Frowny-face Catholics gasp at women’s feet, wet and tempting. Nothing worse than an ordination advocate sticking a female foot in the door. Cluck–bad theology plus poor pastoral practice: an unwinnable conbination.

And yet, we do have a conundrum to consider. What to make of Pope Benedict and his legacy? B16 was not a bad man. Far from it: he was earnest; he did the best he could. There was nothing outright wrong, heretical, or false in anything he preached or did. So what’s the difference? Are the negotiables like style, symbolism, and personal charm more essential to the proclamation of the Gospel than orthodoxy? What does that say about the place of neo-orthodoxy in the realm of evangelization and ministry? Doesn’t seem all that important, does it?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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3 Responses to The Francis Effect

  1. Liam says:

    When symbols act more as shibboleths than substance (and there are certainly progressive shibboleths for which this tends to be very true), then we have a problem.

  2. John McGrath says:

    What it says is this: Christianity is a way of life, not an ove-relaborated set of doctrinal dictates. A humble way of life, with the events in the life of Jesus and Pentecost as the main teachings (that is, doctrines). That these teachings are by example, not endless explanation and definition. That the center of Christianity consists of the humility and simplicity of the Our Father; the joy of Mary”s words, some captured in the Hail Mary, others in the Magnificat; the spiritual union with Christ and each other in the gratitude of Holy Communion; the actions that are the sacraments; and in the commandments of Christ, summarized as “Love God with all your heart, and love each other as you love your yourself.” It means that the letters of St James need to be restored to a central place in Christian thinking. In summary, Christianity is a humble way of life, not an exercise in intellectual cleverness. The intellect has its place, but it is not what Christianity is about.

  3. Jimmy Mac says:

    Christianity looks to the (ultimate) future, and doesn’t pine for the (often mythological) past. Francis is the future. B16 and JP2 were lovers of the past.

    The future is fostered outside of the fustiness of European and, yes, many US cloisters and in the highways and hedges of the Third World.

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