For once, I am excited about TIME magazine’s Person of the Year. They’ve selected Pope Francis, after giving people a scare by having Miley Cyrus (poor lost soul) on their short list.
And though the article starts out sounding a bit like the usual media wishes that the pope might change doctrine (ain’t never gonna happen), they do manage to get to the heart of it and mention that, no, it cannot change:
Through these conscious and skillful evocations of moments in the ministry of Jesus, as recounted in the Gospels, this new Pope may have found a way out of the 20th century culture wars, which have left the church moribund in much of Western Europe and on the defensive from Dublin to Los Angeles. But the paradox of the papacy is that each new man’s success is burdened by the astonishing successes of Popes past. The weight of history, of doctrines and dogmas woven intricately century by century, genius by genius, is both the source and the limitation of papal power. It radiates from every statue, crypt and hand-painted vellum text in Rome—and in churches, libraries, hospitals, universities and museums around the globe. A Pope sets his own course only if he can conform it to paths already chosen.
And so Francis signals great change while giving the same answers to the uncomfortable questions. On the question of female priests: “We need to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman.” Which means: no. No to abortion, because an individual life begins at conception. No to gay marriage, because the male-female bond is established by God. “The teaching of the church … is clear,” he has said, “and I am a son of the church, but”—and here he adds his prayer for himself—“it is not necessary to talk about those issues all the time.”
We won’t be able to get out of the Culture Wars until the culture at large stops making war on the Church, but perhaps Pope Francis can help people understand where God stands in all of this, and what He’d like from each and every one of us. And TIME admits that this is what Francis is trying to do.
While TIME will still probably see the pope as the head of a massive organization like a business, it seems that Pope Francis’ style has opened their eyes a bit to the fact that the pope – every pope, we Catholics know – is the head of the Church as a group of faithful followers of Christ first and foremost.
Again, I still cringe at the way they approach the Church – talking about the commission on the sexual abuse scandals, as if he’s the first pope to do anything at all just because now there’s a special commission (how American to think of it that way – how DC-ish!) – but from the parts I’ve been able to skim quickly, I’m seeing a bunch of people who are a bit in awe of this pope.
And so, no matter how slanted the article might be, or what they’re skewing because of their own world view and lack of understanding, I see this as nothing but a good thing in the end. God will use this, and He will draw people to Himself, through His Church, using this article on the pope.
There are people out there who are being drawn to Christ through His Vicar, and this can only help move more of them into the Church where the fullness of faith resides. And how can that be a bad thing?
I want to leave you with this, which comes near the end of the article. This is really why our beloved pope is the Person of the Year. His joy! Not that our previous popes did not have such joy, but his personality is such that it radiates out of him and overflows to everyone nearby. All our popes have the sublime joy that only a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can bring. Not all popes have the kind of personality where everyone – even those only half paying attention – can see it bubbling out. Pope Francis bubbles over, and his joy is contagious:
But every so often, he can’t help himself. The script falls to his lap and he leans forward, looks out over the crowd and just starts talking, his hands in the air, his voice stronger now, doing his own call and response. Jesus is risen, and so shall we be one day, he tells them. And as though they might not quite grasp the implication, he pushes them: “But this is not a lie! This is true!” he says. “Do you believe that Jesus is alive? Voi credete?” “Yes!” the crowd calls back, and he asks again, “Don’t you believe?” “Yes,” they cry. And now he has them. They have become part of the message. He talks about Christ’s love like a man who has found something wondrous and wants nothing more than to share it. “He is waiting for us,” Francis says. And when he comes to the end of his homily, the script drops once more. “This thought gives us hope! We are on the way to the Resurrection. And this is our joy: one day find Jesus, meet Jesus and all together, all together—not here in the square, the other way—but joyful with Jesus. This is our destiny.”
A blessed Advent to you!