Recently I have posted articles or papal quotes on Facebook and have had some very passionate and even ugly responses. This isn’t the first time this has happened of course, I remember posting a quote from one of my favorite encyclicals by Saint Paul VI, Populorum Progressio and being asked to “cut it out” or I would lose monetary support. For some time now, lies, gossip, and angry joyless political-based Catholicism have plague Media outlets like EWTN and Lifesite news, both of which I used to trust as resources for teaching various theological courses. Catholic public discourse as a general rule today saddens me. I have tried, perhaps in vain or in the wrong manner, to share my love and admiration of Pope Francis. Being a missionary is such a blessing. We see so much, so many different expressions of the faith, so much need, so many overlooked. I have listened in shock at times at the utter inability of many American Catholics to accept much less understand the reasoning for the Church’s teaching on any number of subjects.
The reason I have posted so much on FB has been a, perhaps naïve, desire to convince others that the Pope and the Magisterium are still good, that they can guide us, change our minds, make us better and call us on to greater truth.
Judging from some of the comments I have received lately on Facebook the title of this blog may be controversial. It is strange that we can live in an age where it can be provocative for a Catholic to appreciate the Pope or agree with him among other Catholics. The Popes should challenge us, challenge our secure places and neat categories. Being a convert, I have become accustomed to being challenged by this majestic beautiful office. I remember how difficult it was to accept the Saint Paul VI’s stance on contraception as a young college student. Now after losing two children (one in miscarriage and another at 18 months old) and raising eight more I can honestly say I am happier allowing myself to be formed by this remarkable faith. I am truly content. God is so good.
Nevertheless, so many Catholics seem unhappy today. Mainstream Catholic media outlets seem to thrive on criticizing Christ’s vicar and presenting everything he says in suspicion. I have received posts criticizing me from people I barely know or people who only know my friends, priests and lay people alike who are angry and confused, oftentimes misinformed about what Pope Francis wrote or taught. I have rarely met even clergy who have read the pope’s most important writings. Reading someone else’s critique or summary seems to be a la mode nowadays.
I remember how much it used to bother me as an early catholic to meet people who rejected the teaching office of the church or a variety of Church teachings they presumed were untrue and unimportant. I remember the labels “Cafeteria Catholicism” thrown around to describe these people. I never wanted to be one of these types. Yet a person must be ready to give up a lot to ascent to what Jesus proposed and continues to propose to the world through His Shepherds. More and more lately, I have felt like it can be a precarious thing to support the Pope publically with so many Catholics who view him with contempt and consider their own judgment sufficient to defy or ignore this man of God.
For me the very reason I became a Catholic was the Magisterium. I know. It’s not very romantic. I also realize now that there were a variety of events and ideas that lead me here but the most pressing one, the most evident to my intellect was authority. The Bible’s table of contents only made sense if there was an authority whom God used to include and exclude certain books. It was that simple in the end. Like the authority or not, Jesus invested a lot upon this authority, remember His words, “upon this rock I will build my church…” Yet I was surprised early on to find out that there were people who believed they were Catholic but didn’t believe in the authority of the living pope.
My first experience was in RCIA class. I loved going to daily mass. It was so beautiful and needed at that moment in my life. I met a man who told me he wanted to bring me to a “real” mass. I was intrigued, and perplexed. What did he think was the mass I had been attending? I soon found out. It was my first experience with devout Catholics who were angry and unhappy and who didn’t believe in the living authority of the Church. I had known many nominal Catholics who were any number of things but generally, I found that the few devout Catholics I met were joyful and full of love. At my first Latin Mass, there was no joy. In fact, I loved John Paul II and they rejected him as confused and heretical. I heard catch phrases like “Assisi 1984”, “modernism” and the ever ridiculed “novus ordo” liturgy. I remember the priest criticizing Saint John Paul II from the pulpit and saying we needed to pray asking God to hear (this time) his prayer for the consecration of Russia to Our Lady. I didn’t even understand many of the terms so passionately discussed half the time. I remember they brought me out to lunch and invited me to become a member of their parish. I simply told them that I had already been a protestant.
I loved John Paul II, the story of his forgiving his assassin was so impressive to me and unexpected. When he asked forgiveness to Protestants for the sins of the past, he endeared himself to me. I saw in him a humble saintly man. I loved Benedict XVI, I remember getting Isaac a “Cardinal Ratzinger fan club” T-shirt. I loved Benedict’s ability to teach. Caritas in Veritate is still one of my favorite magisterial documents. I loved his gentleness and open spirit of discussion. I love Francis. My Mexican son Ezekiel was born on the day he became pope. We added the name Francisco to Ezekiel’s train of names. I felt we would have a special connection with this Pope and we have. He has led us throughout our time in mission and you know what, whenever I have felt at a loss, I have discovered that he has given us the answer. God is so good to us. He has given us a saintly pope in Francis.
I intend over the next few blog posts to share some of our missionary experiences that have changed my mind on a whole assortment of issues. From annulments to the priest shortage, from the environment to immigration, from Indigenous tribes to the Our Father prayer translation and more. Teresa and I have seen so much and oftentimes it is so easy to see why the Church is making the decisions She is if you can get context. I want to give you context. Will you let me?
We have been blessed to house close to two hundred people these last couple of years in our home in Chontapunta, Ecuador. Many join us in the Amazon jungle, serving with us in the mission to share the joy of Jesus with people starving for the faith, for love, for someone to notice them, to love them. Please allow our experiences to benefit you and maybe open your own heart to the joy of the gospel to which Pope Francis is calling us.
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” Evangelii Gaudium 1