Pope Francis just passed the 100th day of his papacy. Here in these United States, once every four or eight years, the nation pauses to take stock of its newly elected leader (POTUS) and pundits and professors suddenly appear on cable talk, Sunday morning interviews and in the op-ed pages of the nation’s newspaper to assess the first 100 days – its successes and it failures (usually the latter), its promises kept and its promises broken (usually the latter), its prospects for the future and its potential calamities for the future as well (usually the latter). So with this “US” tradition in mind, what’s to be made of our new Pope and how does one judge his first one hundred days? I am about to provide a response but wish to make it clear that while I think I speak the heart and mind of a lot of people – Catholic or not – these are still only my thoughts.
I feel something like Simeon the prophet in that marvelous moment from Luke’s Gospel when Joseph and Mary present their newborn in the Temple and Simeon says, “Now, Master, you have kept your word. Your servant can go in peace.” That is exactly how I feel – with God’s help, especially four years ago next month, I have lived to see a new day begin to dawn in the Church which I love and am privileged to serve. Because of the election of one man from a special pastoral experience this successor of St. Peter is exceptionally candid, fearless in sharing not just his fine mind, but his loving heart as well, and, amazingly, a man intent on listening to the longings of others. He wants to go forward, really “put out into the deep” and not return to the shore of history and start anew from what failed to work in the past but live in this moment and respond now to the present realities and challenges. Here are some examples from the first one hundred days which give me heart:
1) To thousands of Jesuit students from around Italy, he casts aside the traditional prepared text, declares it likely to be boring, and says, let me answer some of your questions, whatever they might be. Someone rushes to the microphone to announce that whatever questions are asked, they are totally unprepared and infers the Pope should be forgiven if they embarrass either he or the questioner and for thirty minutes he captivates the young people, the world, and myself with his candor and love. Watch out Rio, this man has the touch to turn every past World Youth Day experience into an unprecdented moment of love. I know what some would say, did not John Paul II have the same chemistry with youth? Yes, in some ways, but he still read long, tedious and perhaps by this Pope’s estimation, boring speeches, homilies, etc.
2) When the ivestigation of US religious women and later when the investigation of LCWR was launched, I took a lot of grief from the National Catholic Reporter for being much too optimistic when I suggested, don’t worry so much about it. They have never led to doomsday. When Pope Francis says the same thing to the Central and South American equivalent to LCWR and CMSM, it is like a new revelation coming from Mt. Sinai in the person of the Pope. Francis understands that one cannot force toothpaste back into the tube once it is out, so learn to creatively live with it and keep the good work going.
3) When I did my recent post on the new translation of the Roman Missal, I caught some grief coming from one source on the Catholic right. But my salve came a few days later when no less a person than the Pope suggests that a return to the past is not the path to the future, leading me to believe that maybe a return to “And also with you” might return some day to replace, “And with your Spirit.” I still firmly believe that many of the attacks on the liturgy since the Council and more especially in recent years have been attacks on the Council’s integrity and work product and some of those who long for the old liturgy want even more. Pope Francis must scare these people to death.
4) One of the more challenging aspects of my personal ministry here in this diocese has been to enlist people to work for justice and to become a voice for the voiceless. “Yeah, yeah, but it is not my cup of tea,” people will say when of my personal support for FAST (Faith and Strength Together) in Pinellas county and HOPE in Hillsborough county. It is my belief that Pope Francis can not be understood unless someone has an appreciation of what it means to minister day and day out to those living in poverty, those thinking they have no voice and no one is listening. It is clear to me that this Pope’s pastoral heart is with these people and he wants his bishops and priests to be there with these people as well. I have a long way to go in this regard and very little time remaining to me to get there, but I understand him.
5) Finally, in hoping for a return to a more socially active, collegially committed episcopal conference, Pope Francis’s talk yesterday to the papal nuncios from around the world stirs my heart. “Pastores Dabo Vobis“ which translates, “I will give you shepherds” [or “pastors”] was cleverly inverted by the new Pope to ask those tasked with making recommendations for the episcopacy to “You give me pastors [shepherds]” to consider for the role of bishop. By that standard I am sure I would not have made it, but it is possible that I might have been a better bishop had I spent more time in “pastoring” a parish. I truly believe that the Holy Father was not excluding anyone from consideration but seeking including successful practical pastoral experience as a criteria for choice.
Allow me to end this “musing” with a repeat of what I said on the evening of his election and his first appearance before us all. The Holy Spirit truly has given us a shepherd who will provide continuity of doctrine, compassion in pastoral practice in leading the Church, and simplicity of lifestyle. He’s highly attractive to Catholics and non-Catholics alike but after all, it has only been one hundred days.