Pray For Me: Understanding Pope Francis




The pope is always one-of-a-kind on the world stage, and has no competition except for Satan and his followers. If there are any human contenders for his position in the Church, those would have to keep that ambition a secret from fellow Cardinals, because self-promotion is not exactly a Christian virtue in this role.

He had just been elected pope, and finished his greeting to the assembled crowed by saying, “Pray for me”. This phrase is now a world famous tag line, but not from an actor or politician looking for a unique identity in a crowded field of contenders. Ever since he uttered those words on the library balcony of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, just after his election, Pope Francis has been the subject of analysis by the entire world.

His last, and second, encyclical, Laudato Si (On Care for Our Common Home), was released just a little over two years since his election; time enough to have settled into the office and find his own written voice. Time enough to not have to share the office in a short overlap period with another pope, Benedict XXVI, whom everyone had not yet forgotten. He could write his own encyclical, and not have to finish another by someone else. Time enough to try and solidify in the minds of the world what Francis actually means; what he wants people to understand about the Church, his pontificate, and himself. What has come before this encyclical has been mostly excerpted and molded by the world press and political special interests into “what Francis said”, in an effort to promote their agenda.

Pope: The Whole Man

No, there will never be a woman in this position. He has been given powers and duties by Christ to the whole of mankind as a priest. The gender of a pope has been determined by Christ. The man who is Francis is now beginning to show us his whole Catholic self; his way. As this view becomes clear and more evident to those who are prone to appropriate pieces of Francis to promote their own agenda, our Pope is becoming less attractive to the them, and actually more Christ-like. This is a familiar pattern, hopefully not repeating Christ’s life of initial popularity, then descending into condemnation.

Laudato Si is about the whole of man. When I first read it, my reaction was puzzlement as to why our Pope was meddling in a hot-button political issue? Why did he write about the environment, a word he used 155 times in the English translation. His native language, Spanish, also uses the equivalent word, ambiental. That word has been totally co-opted by our society to represent a collection of distasteful conditions; smog, dirty roads, excessive cutting of the rain forest, polluted water, and the most contested one – climate change.

Why Be Afraid of the Word Environment?

To me, it represents our American discord and increasingly angry polarization. It represents the touted false notion that a consensus of scientists is the same as scientific fact. It attaches to a dangerous movement working towards global government ignoring a particularly important Catholic teaching of subsidiarity.

Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1883)

I am afraid that the professional political class will use this fear of global harm to control populations for their own self interest; business and social. I am afraid that we will get more of those broad patches of gigantic steel poles sticking out of the ground into the once beautiful skyline from engineered junk yards. My last trip through the Columbia River Gorge illustrated to me the rapid destruction by these wind farms of the once natural landscape.

Think of Creation, Not Environment

Francis speaks as a pastor. He speaks and writes in broad concepts, not detailed recommendations. His encyclical is about creation – what God has done for us and what we need to do for ourselves. He has not injected himself into a squabble, he has only reminded us of our responsibility. He has told us what every pope has told us; to be thankful to God for what He has given us and be good stewards of that gift.

How could he not write and speak of this, given the easily observable evidence. For example, in the United States we have had the Love Canal incident. For years, that New York canal was a dumping site for all kinds of waste, both benign and deadly chemicals. Only after the effects began to show on people and their environment did the ignorance of business and government also show.

In the U.S., we have done much to alleviate environmental problems, but in the emerging industrial countries it is severe. The Pope’s own country of Argentina has shown him close-up and personal the problems that plague much of the world. To speculate on some of the more debatable causes of the degradation of God’s creation, such as what is perceived as a man-made global warming, is a prudential judgement all men, even a pope, can make. The need to protect creation is a God given duty. That duty is what Laudato Si is insisting on. That duty is what a pope is obligated to teach.

Our Common Home

Francis titles his writing after a canticle by Saint Francis, LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore (Praise be to you, my Lord). In the beginning of the encyclical he explains the earthly theme:

Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.

This large view of physical creation later focuses on the greater understanding and very necessary teaching effort of a pope. This Pope’s personality and method of fulfilling his duty as first bishop, preaching to the entirety of mankind, is simply stated. He again uses the familiar language of Saint Francis, his namesake, referring to “sister” moon in order to lay out his vast teaching jurisdiction :

Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated and treated individually without once again falling into reductionism. Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth. (emphasis is mine)

The Jesuit Pope who took the name of a Franciscan – the Franciscan – understands that reductionism can exist in the Church also. How do I follow Jesus is the question he suggests that all Christians follow.

Avoiding Reductionism

Pope Francis follows his predecessors, Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, in the understanding of the concept of reductionism that has devastated modern populations. Benedict XVI explained in his scholarly way:

In fact human beings, separated from God, are reduced to a single dimension — the horizontal — and this reductionism itself is one of the fundamental causes of the various forms of totalitarianism that have had tragic consequences in the past century, as well as of the crisis of values that we see in the current situation. By obscuring the reference to God the ethical horizon has also been obscured, to leave room for relativism and for an ambiguous conception of freedom which, instead of being liberating, ends by binding human beings to idols.

I see in Pope Francis the need to not put aside an acceptance of the whole in order to discuss the parts. The whole being described, in time, as starting with God, then moving to creation where we humans interact with Him. All of this is combined into a unified whole.

Currently important parts of that whole that the world is discussing are; air and water pollution, possible global warming, religious liberty, conscience, economic security and migration, migration from war, political conflict, war, and an uncertain future.

How Francis Approaches These Worries

His recent visit to Cuba and the United States showed us that he has a pastoral interest in his flock. He held Mass publicly more than once in that totalitarian Communist country. Cuba has done everything it can to eliminate God from its population, but has not totally succeeded. Pope Francis feeds his sheep with the Eucharist, and an encouragement that it is not a certainty that faith will be extinguished by evil ideologies.

In the U.S., he met with President Obama, who afterwards praised him highly as a great moral leader. The President’s motivation could be perceived as political, because of his own public display to a lack of moral values by actively supporting partial birth abortion. But, Francis is listened to by world leaders, even if only in part.

He met with the Little Sisters of the Poor, and by that simple under-reported act, shows the world that religious freedom is a concern of the Pope.

Kim Davis and a Lesson in Reductionism

In the most parsed story of his visit, probably even more than his meeting with Fidel Castro, he met with the defiant county clerk Kim Davis. who is known for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to homosexuals, and subsequent jailing. She is quoted as saying that in that brief meeting, he gave her words of encouragement. The social and for-profit media, let go a blitz of words and talking heads, about that meeting in an attempt to either gain a political advantage, or to further sell their ignorance of his pontificate for profit. Irrelevant in this papal story, her attorney, was examined for faults to publicize.

The only pertinent details:

Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the head of the Holy See Press Office released a statement that said, “Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City.” Kim Davis was one of those people. She was unknown to anyone outside of her small area of the state of Kentucky until she made headlines for her public stance on the change in marriage law. If this was in a reception line or a personal meeting as a reliable source has said; I don’t know. I have gone through official reception lines as a guest, and know that the knowledge that the person greeting you has of who you are, cannot be determined, except by what they say to you, or about you to others. The necessity of a line indicates that the greeter meets dozens or thousands of people regularly. He may have a great interest in your story, or only know from a brief whisper in the ear, your name. I suspect that either way it went, Pope Francis is very aware of her courageous stand.

It was a very important personal experience for Kim Davis.

Dr. Robert Moynihan of Inside the Vatican magazine reports: “On the plane trip home, an American television reporter asked him (Francis) about government officials who refused to perform their duties because of religious objections to same-sex marriage. The pope said that he could not speak specifically about cases but that “conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right.””

Our Common Humanity as Well

We must raise ourselves up from ground level thinking when attempting to understand Francis. His mention of capital punishment to the U.S. Congress is another example. He has spoken before about the need to abolish the death penalty world-wide. He also met with prisoners in Philadelphia shaking hands with them. He began by saying, “Thank you for receiving me and giving me the opportunity to be here with you and to share this time in your lives. It is a difficult time, one full of struggles.”

The prisoner meeting makes it easier to understand this pastor’s meeting with Kim Davis. The Pope may not be in sympathy with the defense of a particular prisoner, with claims of injustice, or with any other detail of their lives. He is not necessarily in support of their lives in “all of its particular and complex aspects” as Fr. Lombardi said of the Kim Davis meeting; “…his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”

The teaching is clear, but from a high level. It comes from a lofty view of Our Common Home.

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

2 thoughts on “Pray For Me: Understanding Pope Francis”

  1. Cuba has done everything it can to eliminate God from its population, but has not totally succeeded.

    This begs the question as to whether or not a human being ( or highly evolved animal for that matter) would not innately understand that God (or whatever higher power one conceives) exists no matter what outside force (propaganda) is exerted, ergo: it seems impossible to eliminate God from the state of consciousness. Of course, to tap into their higher power a much more complicated relationship between a creature and its maker must exist.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: