disruptionA disruption in blog service? Todd is away and I can say – and you can see – that I have not exactly stepped up to the plate. Here is it June 5, and the blog has been quiet since May 28. It is me, Fran, who has not posted here in a long time. Anyway, I’m popping in, better late than never.

“What I’ve seen is how disruptive Pope Francis has been within the hierarchy of the United States,” said Tobin. “I was talking to a couple of brother bishops a while back and they were saying that bishops and priests were very discouraged by Pope Francis because he was challenging them.”

When I read these words at the NCR , which I was led to via a post at PrayTell, I was stopped in my tracks. The pope is disruptive? Lest I be accused of a kind of contextual proof-texting, let me step back and explain.

It appears that Archbishop Tobin (this Tobin, not this one) was speaking at the College Theology Society Meeting in Latrobe, PA last week. He spoke of the “balkinization” of our society, meaning the divisive ideological world which we inhabit here in the US. I’ve had to think about this post, lest it appear that I am furthering such division, which I can assure you I do not wish to do.

Archbishop Tobin also said, “At the present moment, this behavior helps to contribute to the balkanization of American Catholics into so-called right wing and left wing, or progressive and traditionalist, factions, who point fingers at each other…” I don’t disagree with this. Blogger Mark Shea made a comment on his Facebook page the other day, in talking about ideological divisions, that made perfect sense to me. (And it works in reverse as well.)

Shea said: “If people simply learned from the Church rather than reacting to their tribal enemies, so many problems would vanish. The folly of “faithful conservative” Catholic is that they seldom listen to the pope. Instead, they listen to what the left says about the pope, panic that it is all true, don’t try to understand the lefty things that *are* true and part of the Church’s tradition, and then completely freak out.”

This is all well and good, but I am struggling with Archbishop Tobin’s remarks about division, and then his remarks about Pope Francis. A little disruptive cognitive dissonance perhaps?

The notion that bishops have grown discouraged because the pope challenged them strikes me as a most self-serving position. Perhaps something is out of context or I read it wrong? I do know people who attended the CTS, so I can ask someone, and I have an intention to do just that, but I’m still left shaking my head.

If the pope does not challenge all of us, if God does not challenge all of us, then what are we doing here? And isn’t disruption necessary for change, for transformation? And what about the bishops and clerics who were challenged by the past two popes, one of whom is now a saint? It seems that any complaints about that brought little more than the tsk-tsk sound of those questioning their Catholic crediblity. He’s the pope, that’s why, was the hue and cry.

The whole thing leaves me, as ever, wondering.  Which in its own way, brings disruption. It makes me think about the theme of the CTS conference, which I found on the CTS website: “God has begun a Great Work in Us: The Embodiment of Love in Contemporary Consecrated Life and Ecclesial Movements. ”  Great work is often disruptive, so let God work.

So much for my pondering today… I know, everyone wishes Todd was back already!

About Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

Pilgrim, writer, speaker, retreat director, social media minister, church secretary - it's hard to believe I was once a corporate executive, but I was. Married to an incredible man, have a spectacular stepdaughter, dog and cat.
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5 Responses to Disruption

  1. Liam says:


    Thank you so much for offering your voice here.

    As for disruption, I think human beings, being, well, crave consolations, and don’t rush to embrace desolations (unless they are masochistic, in which case one has egoism still at work). Desolations can come in the form of absences – the absence of feeling validated that one is Doing Right and Thinking Right. The career path of most bishops suggests that they would be among the many who would find such a form of desolation to be disruptive, as they have typically been good at performing and being validated for their performance.

    I’ve taken to praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary as a Friday penitential act of piety. When I consider the third mystery – Jesus being mocked – traditionally offered as a prayer for the grace of courage, I consider how Jesus in his humanity was confronted by a complete mockery of his mission. How many of us have experienced periods (for some, LOOONG periods) when what we imagined our sense of mission seemed to be smacked all over by failure? It is, of course, at the very least, an opportunity for solidarity – for bishops to experience solidarity with all those people who have no enduring feeling of success or even only a long-enduring sense of failure – and for the rest of us to experience some solidarity with bishops who feel disrupted.

    • Dear Liam, thanks for this rich comment. I pray the rosary daily, so I am going to begin joining you in prayer with this more specific intention.

      I think we often get caught in the hearing/reacting mode, ala Mark Shea’s quoted comment in the post, and I pray that we can be more in the listening/contemplating/responding mode. And trust me – I’m praying for my own often reactive, more than reflective self here as well.

      Your prayers that call us into solidarity are a gift. Thank you for the reminder of this way to help restore the Body.

      • Liam says:

        You are most welcome. I pray the Rosary mostly on Fridays and before Mass; I’ve got a personal daily office of prayers that I pray when swimming each morning. In terms of the Sorrowful Mysteries Rosary, a couple of dimensions I’ve grown to iclude in my meditations are:

        1. How awful foreknowledge can be. There’s a saying that, if we knew what would happen to us in the future, we’d never get out of bed. Even with foreknowledge of wonderful things, foreknowledge of terrible things is, well, for humans a terrible thing. I sometimes admit of being grateful that I don’t have foreknowledge of all the bad things that will happen to me in the future.
        2. What was it like for Mary, who would not have been gifted with foreknowledge of the specifics of what was to come except to the extent Jesus told her? In the first mystery, imagine she is working with the other women disciples to clean up after the Last Supper and prepare for the rest of Passover, and then Jesus doesn’t come back, and John comes back to say Jesus has been arrested. Imagine a mother’s worry – of what she can’t see in person, and then what she does witness in person. What kind of demands of faith, hope and love that made on her.

        Foreknowledge and uncertainty. Two things we human beings can dread equally. Both at work in the helix of experiences on which our meditations center.

  2. Copernicus says:

    Archbishop Tobin is speaking approvingly of Pope Francis, and the way he has shaken things up. His next comment was “So, pray for Francis’ health.” It’s no surprise that Pope Francis’s words and deeds are challenging, and that he is encountering resistance. So I think Abp Tobin agrees with you! Or rather, you agree with him.

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