It’s much like any other family, plus or minus about a billion members.
We have our quirks and our shortcomings, our saints and our sinners. We are imperfect and wonderfully weird and, first and foremost, we are universal.
That’s unbelievably ambitious, by the way, for God to cobble something together from so many disparate and diverse members and call it holy and apostolic. If nothing else convinces you of the divinity behind the longevity of Catholicism, let it be this: that we haven’t all killed each other yet.
And so now we have the internet. The 24/7 news cycle. The entire world up in each other’s business in a way previously unfathomable to mankind. And there are pros and cons to this never-ending glut of information to process. I would offer as a giant con the seemingly global disability to process well, at least for 99% of the literate populace. We’re very good at emoting and reacting. We’re less adept at reasoning and reflecting.
Each era has its own challenges and triumphs. We live in the Information Age, for better or worse, and so we must learn what (and whether) to do with the information that is assaulting our eyeballs and our eardrums at literally every waking moment. Do we process it all? Filter it out? React to everything that moves us?
Social media complicates this further, because everyone has a platform and, therefore, the right to exercise it. It’s the great equalizer, making would-be journalists and talking heads of us all.
But remember, not all sources of information are created equal. And not everyone with a loud microphone and a robust Twitter following has the capacity to speak thoughtfully and thoroughly on a given issue.
My biggest complaint with the Francis papacy, 2 years in, is the reaction of seemingly well-formed and practicing Catholics to the Things He Says Which Are Outrageous.
Let me back up and preface what is about to be said; it is true that this Holy Father of ours is not the most eloquent speaker. It is true that he speaks his heart readily, and that he uses culturally-hamstrung idioms and analogies. He is not an intellectual (and I don’t think he would take offense at my saying so) and he is not a philosopher. His mind has not been sharpened by 40 years of rigorous theological study and debate, and his worldview was most decidedly not formed by the Western/European experience.
But he is the Pope. He is the Successor of Peter, chosen by his brother cardinals under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead the Church now, today, in the year 2015. Not in the year 2012 or 1987 or 1334. He’s here for us, right now. Just as each of us were handpicked to live in such a time as this.
And if I don’t agree with everything that comes out of his mouth (and I don’t) and if some of what I read in his writings makes me squirm (and it does), there’s one thing for certain: I’m sure as hell not going to let someone from outside the family tell me what I should think about it.
Now, there’s nothing stopping my next door neighbor, my barista, or the lady at our local grocery store from commenting on how I’m raising my kids, how closely spaced they are, or what kinds of trash I’m serving up at the dinner table, but freedom of speech is not the same thing as rightful authority.
See what I’m saying?
Yes, the guy at Starbucks can comment on my mewling pack of toddlers and advise me to put a stranglehold on the flow of progeny issuing forth from our marital union, but I’m not about to invite him into our bedroom to pour over my NFP charts and help us decide if and when the time is right for another kid.
He can comment away all he likes, but I don’t have to (and sure as hell shouldn’t, in fact) listen.
Similarly, CNN, MSNBC, the AP, America magazine, your token crackpot SSPX blogger, and all the rest are very, very free to comment on every thing the Pope says and does, what it means, what it doesn’t mean, and what you, as a Catholic, SIMPLY MUST DO ABOUT IT.
But you know better than to be getting your family business from the guy at the post office, don’t you?
You’re not really going to let someone outside the family – and as is often the case, utterly opposed to the very existence of the family – tell you your family business, are you?
Misquotable or not, Pope Francis is our Pope. He’s our father. He’s also a figure of contradiction and amusement and confusion and excitement and all the other adjectives for the rest of the world, looking on in wonder/disgust/mild curiosity. So yes, he will be in the news. And yes, all the things he says will be analyzed and dissected and translated and represented to you, the consumer, to ingest.
But it’s your responsibility to monitor the quality.
I can’t expect to have a well-formed opinion of or appreciation for the Pope if all I read about him comes through the secular media who simultaneously reviles the Catholic Church and desperately wants to see her fall into ruin. I can’t seriously hope to allow the Holy Spirit to work through him on my little old heart if, instead of reading his encyclicals and his homilies, all I know of him is filtered through a Buzzfeed article or Rachel Maddow’s stimulating commentary.
Would you let someone talk about your biological father that way? Would you give them that same authority over your opinion of him?
I thought not.
It’s an imperfect analogy, because yes, the Pope is a very public figure. But remember this: we have a responsibility before God to answer for the information we take in, be it in the form of entertainment or “news.” We’re not just open trash receptacles, and words and ideas have consequences. So don’t let someone who doesn’t have your – or your family’s – best interests at heart be the one to tell you your family business.