Monday, December 30, 2013

Persons of the Year

Wasn't it incredible to see how much more attention Pope Francis received thanks to being named Time "Person of the Year"?  As if the walking face of the new evangelization doesn't already draw the eyes of the world with some new gesture of love each week, the secular press continues flocking to Francis.  They seem intrigued by the new light which he continues shining on old problems.

Perhaps one of the main reasons Time chose him was the simple fact that Pope Francis continues to be one of the best conversation starters as we head into 2014:  Isn't it fun to ask people what they think about the new pope, and then to sit back and see where the conversation leads?!

One theme which often emerges, however implicitly, is the sense that Francis is so different from his predecessor, Pope Benedict.  If our only categories of thought are "liberal" or "conservative," they certainly seem like a story of contrasts:  The "little poor man" following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, the Latin American herald of compassion, turns the Church onto dramatic new paths (hello "liberal" pope!); meanwhile his predecessor, the erudite European defender of Church dogma, retreats into the annals of history (farewell "conservative" pope!).  But perhaps both Benedict and Francis have challenged us to search for a new, more "catholic" perspective on life--beyond the tired alternatives of left or right, progressive or conservative.

Indeed, it seems more and more clear that there is a third category of thought emerging in the minds of many people--one which unites Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.  Many people seem to be slowly realizing that being Catholic never fit neatly into the old framework of "left" or "right."  These two Holy Fathers are definitely united in seeing the need for "missionary disciples" at this stage of human history; this idea is neither simply "traditional" nor "progressive," but is fundamentally "catholic."  

It is also becoming more and more obvious that the Person of Jesus Christ is ultimately the center of both of their papacies.  Christ is the Person with whom these two Holy Fathers walk.  He is the One of whom their hearts speak with joy and peace.  It is Christ who provides a new vision, a new framework, a more universal perspective on life.  He is the One whom these Holy Fathers follow even as they lead, and the One to whom they lead others, simply by following so faithfully.

Both Benedict and Francis have touched the world with their humility--and with their heart.  Both Benedict and Francis were the perfect men for the perfect moments in time.  The times, however, proved to be rapidly changing.  So the wisdom of Benedict to see these signs and to announce his resignation cannot be overestimated.  The frenetic pace of life in the "developed" world called for a different form of witness, a pope whose very presence speaks of the Person whom they both know and love. 

Benedict was the teacher of teachers who helped solidify the magisterial insights of John Paul and who seemed innovative in heeding the quiet counsel of the Holy Spirit to step aside as pope.  Francis is the witness of witnesses who seems to have taken Paul VI's insight to heart: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."

Both the Church and the world need more people like these two, since it's clearly time to move beyond the old trench warfare of "left vs. right."  Ultimately, both the Church and the world need Catholics to continue rooting their lives in Christ, who is the way and the truth and the life.