Why Francis Matters, Ctd

Scores of readers over the holidays dove into the latest Deep Dish. “A mama from the It’s So Personal series” writes:

I couldn’t get through the Iraq war Deep Dish – it just made me go to a dark angry place and I could not go on – but, wow, did I love the piece on Pope Francis.  So much so that I explored Marian websites and even ordered a Novena for “The Untier of Knots”.  I have never done a Novena, as I’m an American Episcopalian, but the piece and Francis’ inspiration both really spoke to me. And I have some pretty thorny knots in my life right now.  Thanks for always expanding my world view.  I know everyone doesn’t love your Sunday postings, but I have to say I really get a great deal from them.  And I know Christmas is difficult for you, but you gave all of your readers a gift in this Deep Dish feature.

Another reader:

I became a subscriber just so I could read your deep dish on Pope Francis. The article was worth my $20.00. I kept going back to the sentence, “It is only in living that we achieve hints and guesses – and only hints and guesses – of what the Divine truly is.” Such a lovely, peaceful thought.


In your article about Pope Francis, which I enjoyed immensely, you wrote this:

Many of his followers, it is worth remembering, were often of his own well-to-do class, just as many early Christians were prosperous traders and businesspeople. It was not so much the experience of poverty that propelled them so much as the renunciation of their own wealth and power. This, observers sensed and recorded, gave them a liberation like no other.

I may understand one of the reasons that liberation was so desirable to that particular group of people.  Some time ago, Keith Humphreys wrote an article over at the Washington Monthly about Untier-Of-Knots-Cover-Imagetrying to fire a sub-par employee only to discover that the employee’s three-year-old daughter had just been diagnosed with leukemia.  As Humphreys put it:

What I concluded as an employer from experiences like these is that employer-based health insurance gives me far more power than I want or should have over the health of my employees and their families. Yes, I could just be a cold bastard and fire people like the employee in my fictional example, telling myself that if his daughter doesn’t like it she can complain to Adam Smith. But I’m not built that way and I don’t think most other employers are either. People who do their jobs badly may well deserve to be fired by their employers, but whether they and their families live or die should not also hang in the balance.

I could understand having a few brushes with that kind of power and seeking out some sort of liberation from it.  And I use the term “liberation” advisedly.  As Heinlein once noted (I think he did … can’t find the darn citation), buying into the idea that you have that power over others implicitly requires that you accept that someone else could have that power over you.  It’s literally liberating to reject the idea that any human can wield that kind of power.  You may be declining the opportunity to control someone else’s life, but in the process you’re freeing yourself.

Another reader dissents:

I’ve read/listened to the two new pieces in your new Deep Dish. I enjoyed the conversation with Dan Savage immensely. It was amusing to hear a discussion of the Campus Bar in Cambridge. I lived down the street and was a regular there for a number of years.

But I would caution you not to do too much early hero worship of Francis.

He’s moving away from the disaster of the conservative agenda of the last 30 years. It remains to be seen if he goes the distance. He’s made a good start with removing a theocon or two, but it remains to be seen if he addresses the institutional cover up of child abuse that has been Benedict’s Legacy. And he seems to be going forward with the instant canonization of JPII. I’m not a Catholic, so I’m not as involved in hoping there’s a home for gay people in the church. But in my judgment he’s only gotten “sucks a lot less than the last few” to his credit. Don’t canonize him at the beginning of his reign.

As another puts it, “Talk is nice, but rather cheap. Actions count, even in Catholicism.” I promise one thing: to be vigilant as a hawk on the child-rape question. Another reader sees “concrete changes to the Church already”:

11:00 mass on Sundays has been packed. We no longer can come 10 minutes late and expect to find seats all together. I think this is the Pope effect. My daughter and I love to see how our priest slips in a reference to the pope in every homily. He just loves him, and it’s obvious that having such an open-minded pope has enabled rank-and-file priests the freedom to say things they have wanted to say about the poor and our duty to help them, about God’s love for everyone, and how all are welcome to celebrate mass not just the pious and perfect. Your essay was an early Christmas present. Thank you. And thank you to your entire team for a fantastic year. Your blog is the only blog that I read religiously. I am actually looking forward to slapping down $100 for my renewal.

Another dissent:

In the same airborne news conference during which he made headlines for seeming to counsel against damning gay priests, he responded dismissively to a question about women’s ordination, stating bluntly, “That door is closed.” And then this, from his most recent interview:

When God meets us he tells us two things. The first thing he says is: have hope. God always opens doors, he never closes them. He is the father who opens doors for us. The second thing he says is: don’t be afraid of tenderness. When Christians forget about hope and tenderness they become a cold Church, that loses its sense of direction and is held back by ideologies and worldly attitudes, whereas God’s simplicity tells you: go forward, I am a Father who caresses you.

It just hurts.

Another is more hopeful:

I haven’t read your Deep Dish essay on Pope Francis, but I am looking forward to it.  I am writing mostly to express the odd reaction I have been having to the multiple quotes from Pope Francis you are posting on the blog. As a gay man who was raised in a strict Evangelical household in Oregon, my exposure to the Catholic church has been minimal other than a friend’s Catholic wedding. Starting in high school I consciously rejected my parents’ brand of faith (and politics), which later extended to all organized religion. It is not something I struggled much with after my teens and coming out nor thought much about since.

But recently, I have found myself tearing up when reading some the words of Pope Francis, and not the very-welcome passages relating to poverty and gays, but rather those that have to do with god’s love and hope, such as the one you posted here.

I don’t know if this is a part of me that has gone untouched since I left religion behind. It may also be that for the first time that I can remember someone is expressing religion and god in a manner that my family and their church never could which left me feeling cold and left out from what they were experiencing. Whatever it is, I feel like this Pope has awakened or touched something within me that I did not know I ever had or at least had let go of so long ago I forgot it ever existed. I don’t know if I’ll ever willingly go back to church, and if I did what that church would look like, but Francis has already affected me more than an ex-religious gay Northeast liberal ever would have expected possible. Thank you for your continued attention to this extraordinary Pope.

Another predicts:

This Pope will be the salvation of the Catholics, and a true leader to follow irrespective of your religious beliefs. At least someone you can listen to without that feeling of listening to someone from another century. Here’s a note from my dad, back in Kerala, India, who got a gift subscription of The Dish from me for Christmas. He is a Hindu, a Lord Krishna devotee, for the record. He read your deep dish on Francis and wrote me this:

yes, I read it son. i had not been a follower of these Papal messages or gospel for along time of the previouspopes, but from a recently published interview he gave to a  reporter, I understand that the present pope is much different than others, a down to earth one and that seems to auger well for mankind. Dad

So yes, the Pope’s message is reaching all corners of the world, and puts the Church and the Catholics in a fresh new perspective – a much needed light that might shake the cobwebs and the dust away.

One more reader:

I thoroughly enjoyed your essay on Pope Francis (and was glad I had chosen to subscribe). It called up a lot of emotion and thought and memories in me. I was once a Christian who converted to Catholicism (in the very year that John Paul II became pope) through coming to see it as the best historical vehicle of the gospel When Christianity became impossible for me (for oh so many reasons), I of course left the church. And I suppose I have ended up a “sort-of” Buddhist, in that the very basic teachings of the buddhadharma are what enabled me to go on living after the death of my 15-year-old son in a meaningless accident. You learn what is the truth for you when you are knocked flatter than you would ever think it possible to be knocked, and then you find a way to get up again and go on.

But what is so beautiful to me about the dharma is the way it allows me to look at someone like Francis and see a true bodhisattva – a true agent of truth a compassion – irregardless of what group they belong to. How marvelous for a new bodhisattva to appear as a pope! Who would have thought it? And as someone who once embraced the Catholic faith with a true passion and fierce devotion (until I was reborn into another life, as it were), it makes me glad to see what you see in Francis. How marvelous.

Previous thoughts from readers here.