When Pope Benedict announced his resignation back in February, I felt it very personally. At the time, I wrote:
"I would never say that I experienced the fatherhood of Pope Benedict more deeply than the fatherhood of Blessed JPII - his death affected me like few things have, and I specifically had the experience of losing a father. But he was certainly the father-hero: when he spoke you felt united with the universal Church, like you were suddenly swept up into the grandeur of salvation history, with banners and trumpets. With Pope Benedict, it is as though he just quietly sits down next to you, almost without you noticing, and starts talking to you one-on-one, and you suddenly become of aware of God's love and challenge for you not just as part of the Church but as an individual. That's why he is Papa Benedict. Both have shown us different aspects of God's fatherhood, I think. Those of us who lived during both papacies sure have been incredibly, undeservedly blessed."
So there was a very strong sense of loss for me, the loss of a spiritual father. However, as the next few weeks unfolded, I began to have a strong sense that, for a man as holy and in touch with God's will as my Papa to have taken such an unexpected and dramatic step, there must be a reason. If the Lord had decided to take away such a dear and wise shepherd, he must have something specific in mind.
I don't tend to trust myself when it comes to an awareness of God's will or actions in my life. My struggles with my faith in college and after arose from the perception that what I had experienced as God moving and speaking in my life was a sham or self-deception. But this wasn't just my life - this was the life of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, and the movement of the Spirit seemed unmistakable to me.
On the second day of the Conclave when the white smoke went up, I was at work. I've never been happier to work for a Catholic organization - I ran to the multi-purpose room and put the coverage up on the big screen, then had the front desk make an announcement over the PA to invite residents to come down and meet our new Pope. The room was soon crowded and I sat towards the back. My husband and I texted back and forth, alternating between excitement and a bit of eye-rolling at some of the coverage.
Finally Cardinal Tauran came out on the balcony, and made the announcement. I didn't understand what he'd said, but a banner immediately appeared at the bottom of the screen with a name: "Bergoglio." The announcers had some details: a Jesuit from Latin America, two firsts. I remembered a little bit about him from John Allen's profile - he was the one who rode a bus to work.
When our new Holy Father stepped into view, my tears were flowing freely. He stood for a long time, looking out at the crowd. Then he greeted us, and asked for our blessing, and led the whole Church in prayer to Our Lady.
I felt like I could almost see the pieces falling into place, and felt such a serene joy in the loving actions of the Lord to bring hope and strength to a hurting Church. It seemed to me so clear that He had sent this man to us to guide His Church towards healing, to bridge the ever widening gaps between north and south, left and right.
As the next few weeks unfolded, I continued to be excited by how I saw the Lord acting through him. I knew that in some circles that overlap slightly with mine there was some grumbling, mostly surrounding his lack of emphasis on certain liturgical preferences. But that in my mind was part of the healing process. It seemed clear to me that, on both so-called ends of the so-called spectrum, we'd lost our focus, and that Pope Francis was the one to remind us about what - or rather Who - is the source and summit of every teaching and tradition.
Then came that one interview. You remember the one, right? The Holy Father said things like this:
The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up. The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.I'm not going to be able to describe very well what this interview meant to me. I read the whole thing straight through, at work, cried at my desk, emailed my husband, read it some more.
Healing. It's something I've begged God for throughout my adult life, for myself and for the Church. The interview felt like Christ personally reaching out to me through the words on my screen, offering me that healing. I was so grateful.
Then the backlash came. I'm sure you remember that, too. And again, I'm not going to be able to describe very well how it affected me, except to say that each time someone attacked the Pope, questioned his orthodoxy, doubted his prudence, undermined his authority, spoke of him with condescension, it was like a physical blow.
The fact that many of these comments came from those who, despite my disagreement with some of their methods or emphases, I had always understood to represent fidelity to Holy Church made me feel betrayed and alienated. I had to fight against a feeling of shame - for what? For seeing the Holy Father as a teacher and myself as a student? For thinking the Vicar of Christ, elected by the College of Cardinals after a life of service to the Church, probably had more prudence in his little finger than the entire Catholic blogosphere? For drawing inspiration and joy from his words, for feeling re-invigorated in my faith and in my striving towards a life of virtue?
I never wanted to be part of the vitriol and mud-slinging and vicious divisiveness that seems to characterize so much of Catholic new media, and I still don't.
But my hurt on the Holy Father's behalf, my feelings of betrayal, were too strong to allow for any calm and reasoned arguments. Either I could jump into the ugliness, or I could step away.
So I stepped away.
Why am I coming back now? I'm not sure exactly. I like writing, for one thing. I like writing about the Church, which I love more than my life. I like writing about other, related things too, like books and music and art.
It's not like things have changed. We've now reached a place where someone who considers himself a faithful Catholic thinks he is living according to that description when he says that our Holy Father will "prove a disaster for the Catholic Church," "shows a terrifying naivety," that he "panders to enemies" and "swipes at practicing Catholics," that "Francis thinks by talking vacuously about the poor, he will be respected," that he has "insulted, and severely damaged the work of, pro-life and pro-marriage groups," that we "elected the wrong guy."
We've reached a place where a priest who preaches "hard identity Catholicism," rather than praising the decision of a Catholic media organization to take immediate action to end this person's employment, questions it.
I'm still angry, and I'm still not sure what to do about it. But I still want this blog to be a place to talk about what's good and beautiful in the world, not a place to spit and hiss and build higher walls. I think I've calmed my emotional response enough now to be able to continue with that effort.
P.S. I thought I'd like to end with a quote from the Pope, so I went back to my RSS feed intending to look through some of his old homilies. Instead I found this, right at the top of my feed, from today:
The announcement [of the Gospel] requires authentic human relationships and leads along the path to a personal encounter with the Lord...Therefore, the internet is not enough; technology is not enough...This, however, does not mean that the Church’s presence online is useless; on the contrary, it is essential to be present, always in an evangelical way, in what, for many, especially young people, has become a sort of living environment; to awaken the irrepressible questions of the heart about the meaning of existence; and to show the way that leads to Him who is the answer, the Divine Mercy made flesh, the Lord Jesus.
-- Pope Francis