When we were in college, a friend of mine did not call the fast-food chicken franchise “Popeye’s,” but called it rather “Pope Yes.” As in, “Let’s go get some fried chicken at Pope Yes.” In the mid-1980s, this was his intentional affirmation of John Paul II.
To affirm Francis in the same way now, is strikingly appropriate: Pope, Yes. To the dismay of some Catholics who seem to be motivated by the nostalgia for an imagined glorious past, this pope is hitting the right notes, as followers of Jesus– Catholic and Protestant alike– try to bring Christianity back from irrelevance. (Nostalgic Protestants have the same kind of dismay as nostalgic Catholics regarding church renewal, even if the details are different). The larger narrative of Christianity in Western civilization over the last half-century follows the Catholic storyline in North America and Europe: decline.
This pope does not seem interested in trying to force new wine into old wineskins. Indeed, Pope Francis invokes the metaphor that guides this blog– balance– as he calls for more humility and grace in the church’s dealings with both its own flock, and with the wider world. Confidence in the truth of the gospel and trust in the Lord Jesus should not add up to a hectoring, holier-than-thou moralism. In fact, such a confidence and such a trust should add up to something altogether different.
That “something different,” Francis indicates, should have “the freshness and fragrance of the gospel… simple, profound, radiant.”
This is good news for anyone interested in the Jesus Movement for our time. Pope, Yes.
Below is an excerpt from a Commonweal editorial on the Pope’s interview with the world’s Jesuit publications:
Even more refreshing was the pope’s insistence that “thinking with the church” does not mean thinking only with the hierarchy. “The church [is]…the people of God, pastors and people together. The church is the totality of God’s people.” It has been a long time since that bit of orthodox wisdom has been heard from Rome. In a similar fashion, Francis warned of the dangers of certainty in the life of faith. “If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him.”