"Woe to you when all men speak well of you for their fathers used to treat the false prophets". Lk 6:26
I can't help being a little uncomfortable with the popular media's perception of Pope Francis, I can't help wondering: how long before the bubble bursts. And I can't help reflecting on the almost visceral hatred of Pope Benedict from the very beginning, and that the media seems to use Francis as stick with which to beat Benedict.
I was shopping today and met one of our Argentinian parishioners from Beunos Aires and thought I would congratulate him on Pope Francis' election. His English isn't very good but he left me in no doubt that his feelings towards the Pope were entirely negative, it seemed to be about his involvement with Junta when he was the Jesuit Superior. He is hardly a raging Liberal so I can't think that even in his youth he was involved in Liberation theology.
I am impressed that the Pope seems at ease with people, rather like an avuncular parish priest. That he speaks readily about Jesus, which one might expect from a Pope but he does it simply like an avuncular parish priest. I am concerned that he is so old, that he has only one lung, that so far he seems to do everything himself. What he seems good at, so far, is handling the media, or at least, as I say, it is sympathetic to him but he seems to have knack of leaving them following a little confused in his wake.
What I fear for him is the macchina romana, I can't help but think that one of the causes of JPI's early death was simply the deluge of documents from the various dicasteries that piled up on his desk. He of course was the other smiling Pope, with the common touch, who was going to do something about the Curia. Was it factions in the Curia that Benedict referred to as the "wolves"? When the foreign dignitaries and Cardinal Electors have gone home, I imagine the Apostolic is a pretty bleak place.
Francis has hit the trail running but there must be questions about how long he can run for, already he has difficulty with walking and genuflecting, it will not be long before he needs that moving platform to get up the nave of St Peter's.
Some have suggested we have gone back to the early days of JPII. In many days we have. We have a Pope who is an unknown quantity. No-one knows quite what he will do, or say, or in which direction he will take the Church. It really does seem to be modern phenomena that the whole momentum of the Church depends on the suffrage of one man. The ancient checks and balances have disappeared and in their place is a total monarchy dependant only on the good will or personal holiness of an individual.
Pope Benedict with his careful restoration of a rather curtailed set of papal haberdashery, attempted through signs and symbols to underline the continuation of the Papacy, not just its past but more importantly its future. He tried to deliver it from being a feudal fiefdom based on the personal superstar qualities of an individual Pope to something dependant on Tradition. The red shoes laughed off by many and so easily discarded by Francis, are an obvious sign that successive Popes walk in the same bloody footsteps of Christ and his martyrs. None of those signs are important but they are an alternative to sheer personal charisma.
The Office is important not the Office holder. Benedict's vision seemed to be that the Papacy should be able to contain a Celestine V, a Gregory or Leo the Great, or even God forbid a Borgia or Rovera. John Paul by virtue of his extraordinary personality remade the Papacy in his image and likeness and shifted the Church to an Ultramontane extreme, making it almost impossible for someone even his close ally to take his place.
Refashioning the Papacy with every Pope, leaves the Church lurching from one direction to another every ten or so years, it is hardly healthy state for the Church. Before the media age it was the tiara, which was the symbol of Papal power, it was important, not the wearer. Outside of the City even the Pope's name was of little significance. A new Pope was just a change of feet in the same fisherman's shoes.
Larger than life Popes are indeed a product of the media age, of worldliness, not of good theology. Pius XII watching films of the wartime dictators and then practising his own gestures in a mirror seems to be be the very antithesis of what the Papacy is about. The same with Paul VI intensely emotional knee jerk style; changing the liturgy so dramatically on his own initiative, or falling to the ground to kiss the feet of Patriarch Athanagoras, is as absurd as JPII's globetrotting.turning the role of Pope into type of universal bishop, far beyond the most extreme imaginings of the most extreme of the Fathers of Vatican I.
If I have one prayer for the Papacy of Francis the First is that it has eye for the future, that Francis leaves the papacy fit for a Pope that is quite different to himself. Whether any future Pope wears the tiara or not, I don't care but what I really fear is that we will have a Papacy that is founded entirely on the personality of an individual, rather than the authority Christ has given it. I want a Papacy founded on rock not sand, that has substance in itself and is not dependant on the individual who fulfills the position for a brief few years.