Ever have the urge to just scream when you hear something totally stupid being offered as if words of wisdom? Bad enough many in the secular media are clueless about papal conclaves but worse yet is when Catholic journalists, priests especially, babble pablum and proliferate pedestrian nonsense.
Recently, since the election and installation of His Holiness, Pope Francis, I have heard several Catholic commentators say on television and radio that finally we have a pope we can be excited about. Some have said that while JP2 and B16 were good philosophers and theologians, now we have a pope (Francis) who actually DOES something. They give a backhanded compliment to Pope John Paul II and say he made the papacy more visible from all his papal trips and that Pope Benedict XVI was the friendly professor who taught us so much about the faith. But in their estimation, DEEDS speak louder than SYMBOLS or WORDS. I have heard more than I care to count about how JP2 was an excellent communicator and B16 was an excellent teacher, however, it is now F1 who is actually SHOWING us how to live the Catholic faith and not just know it.
This oversimplified perspective is dangerous. First of all, there is no competition between all three popes. Each one had his own gifts he brought to the papacy. Pope JP2 restored HOPE after a cynical world just got over Watergate, Viet Nam and the sexual revolution. Pope Benedict continued with reigniting FAITH which is an act of the intellect whereby divinely revealed truths are known and accepted. Pope Francis is now helping us rediscover LOVE, also known as CHARITY (faith in action).
Give credit where credit is due. That is only just. Pope John Paul II did not only make papal visits, he also canonized a LOT of saints; he established World Youth Day; he was pivotal in the demise of the evil empire (alias the Soviet Union) and the end of the Cold War and Iron Curtain. He revised the Code of Canon Law in 1983 and promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992. No small feats, any of them.
Pope Benedict also did more than merely speak words. His sharp theological mind was in the same league as the bright philosophical intellect of JP2. B16 may not have written as many papal documents as his predecessor, but he DID a lot in addition to his words of wisdom. Pope Benedict SHOWED us how to be REVERENT once again, especially at Sacred Worship. LEX ORANDI, LEX CREDENDI. What we believe and how we worship are organically integrated. It was Pope Benedict who restored the Extraordinary Form as a viable option in the Western (Latin or Roman Rite) Church AND he is the one who officially promulgated the 3rd Edition of the English translation of the Roman Missal. Words do mean something. Acts are important but so are words. Ideas must inspire acts. Many of us remember our Baltimore Catechism instruction from the Nuns in parochial school: "Why did God make me? God made me to KNOW, LOVE and SERVE Him in this world so as to be happy in the next"
Before any Christian can truly SERVE his or her neighbor, he or she must first KNOW the Lord and grow in LOVE of Him. It is from the love of God and the love of neighbor that we are impelled and motivated (by God's grace) to then SERVE God and serve our neighbor. We serve God, as Pope Benedict XVI aptly tells us by giving Him proper and reverent WORSHIP. In Spirit of the Liturgy, B16 tells us that Moses was sent by God in Exodus to tell Pharaoh: "Let my people go so that they may worship Me in the desert."Sacred Liturgy is the worship of God by man. Yet, true divine worship is a gift from God. He tells us HOW to do it and WHERE to do it. The Temple of Jerusalem was the place par excellence in the Old Testament. In the Christian era, it is the church where the Holy Mass is offered and where the Real Presence (Body & Blood, Soul & Divinity of Christ) remains in the Tabernacle 24/7.
So, how can these ecclesiastical and journalistic nincompoops honestly tell us that Pope Francis is the first pope to SHOW us how to BE Catholic whereas Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul merely TOLD us what we should BELIEVE as Catholics? NO. All three pontiffs TEACH and give EXAMPLE. John Paul II witnessed and demonstrated faith in practice when he went to the prison to forgive his would-be assassin and when he suffered the ignominy of a long and devastating illness that robbed him of his vim and vigor. Nevertheless, he kept going despite the mumbling and drooling toward the end. He showed us what everyone knows already. Old age and illness often go hand in hand and the elderly and the infirm deserve our attention. Their suffering is holy and sacred.
Pope Benedict demonstrated great humility when he chose to abdicate and step down so someone younger and healthier than he can shepherd the universal church with greater efficiency and effort. His ego did not prevent him from leaving the limelight to spend his final years in solitude and prayer. He also showed that despite his shyness and reserved manner, he did the best he could do and he gave his best. I was in High School seminary when Pope Paul VI was dying. I remember the election of Pope John Paul I and then Pope John Paul II. I went to Philadelphia to see JP2 visit the USA. I met him in person at a friend's ordination in 1985. He inspired many young people to discern a vocation to priesthood and religious life who may never have considered it otherwise. He made the papacy accessible and the esteem of the world was evident at his funeral. Not just popular, JP2 made a difference in his 26 year pontificate. Likewise, B16 had to follow in the fisherman's shoes of a truly Great and future Saint. No easy task, but he was the best choice. Pope Benedict renewed REVERENCE where Pope John Paul renewed hope, wonder and awe at being Catholic. Pope Benedict reminded us it is IMPORTANT to KNOW the faith since you cannot love what (or whom) you do not know. Now, Pope Francis is continuing the program by showing us different ways to express and live the faith in charity and in love.
I am proud and am grateful for all three popes. Even JP1 was an enormous blessing even though he only reigned one month as Vicar of Christ. The Smiling Pope, as he was called, brought joy into many hearts that had grown cold with indifference. Pope Paul VI was brave and courageous in defending Humanae Vitae but he was also very saddened and disheartened by the many priests and nuns who abandoned their vocation and even the Church during the late '60's and early 70's. In his last years some bureaucrats and ecclesiastics took advantage of his ill health and just made things worse. Liturgical abuses and sexual misconduct were at an all time high. BAD liturgy + BAD theology go hand in hand and they promote BAD morality as well. Dissent from Humanae Vitae in terms of contraception and abortion were kindled in so-called Catholic colleges, universities and seminaries. Simultaneously, pedestrian and banal liturgies no longer worshipped God but exalted man and his concupiscence. Hence, God sent us JP2, B16 and now F1.
So, my brother priests in the media, WAKE UP and smell the espresso. Stop dissing Pope Benedict as if he were some eccentric old uncle who is now in the nursing home and a new relative has joined the family. Stop comparing and evaluating recent pontiffs as if they were presidents or prime ministers. They are not. Popes are SHEPHERDS of the universal church. They are the Vicars of Christ in earth. REMIND people and the world what gifts were given by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Francis is not going to undo what good has been done, philosophically or theologically by his immediate predecessors. He will be like his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, just as Pope John Paul II was a lot like Saint Paul the Apostle and Pope Benedict XVI was a lot like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure combined. Every time I celebrate Mass, I thank God for the gift of Pope Benedict and his insights and influence on Sacred Worship. Every time I teach a religion class or preach a sermon, I thank God for the wisdom of both B16 and JP2. Were it not for Pope John Paul II being elected in 1978, I may not have endured and survived 12 years of seminary.
Now that we have Pope Francis, I hope to learn from him and imitate him as well since he continues the good work begun by his predecessors.