Some of us Catholics have a love/hate relationship with Pope Francis. There is a sense that his image is bruised, in part by self-inflicted wounds. Didn’t he diss large families? Didn’t he embrace a Marxist crucifix? Didn’t he try to help hijack the synod?
To strain a metaphor a bit: If the pontificate of John Paul or Benedict were a Facebook friend, their posts would be rare, challenging and refreshing. Pope Francis’ pontificate feels more like the guy who is constantly question-commenting, posting on your timeline and inviting you to join new groups.
But while I think it’s a mistake to think of a pope as the incarnation of the Holy Spirit, I also think it’s dangerous to simply ignore him and hope he goes away.
In fact, I think the Holy Spirit made a rather wise play in dealing us the Pope Francis card when he did.
Fine. That’s where my Lent 2016 proposal comes in. Call it the Francis Wager.
Paschal’s Wager said why not behave as if God exists, and then you’re safe either way.
I’m saying to those who would rather pass on this pope: this Lent — as a penance, knowing that it’s hard, knowing that it means stretching yourself a little and taking solace that it’s temporary — why not behave as if Francis were a pope you were enthusiastic about?
The first thing to do is to share your plan with those in your life whose cooperation you will need to make this work. Tell the friend who emails you the latest seeming outrage of Pope Francis that you’ll be happy to hear from them again after Easter, but that you are giving Pope Francis a 40-day chance, and you would appreciate if they would help you out.
The next thing to do is to read (or reread) Francis. Begin with his Lenten meditation , then reread one or more of the major works of his pontificate, with an open spirit, trying to embrace what he is asking: “A Big Heart Open to God,” Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Sí, and the USA addresses.
Third, follow his advice. Pretend it’s good advice if you must, but try it out. You know you should simplify your life; do it Pope Francis-style. You know you should put the smartphone aside and pray more. Try the Francis schedule this Lent: no television, and celebrate daily Mass, Breviary, Rosary and Eucharistic Adoration. Do at least one of them every day.
Last, practice the culture of encounter. There is nothing mysterious about it. Pope Francis is simply saying that we should encounter Christ in prayer and then encounter others in real life.
We Americans should lead the way in the culture of encounter: We network; we “discuss” issues instead of lecturing; we get “employee buy-in on major decisions”; we know the only way to close a deal is in person.
How about this? Invite someone to Mass (you’d be surprised how open people are), invite someone outside your circle to dinner, chat with the person who lives next door .
I think you will find that Pope Francis, for all his flaws, is delivering a needed critique to our time, and that the most challenging thing about him is not when he’s wrong but when he’s right.
Pope Francis says it’s not just your knowledge of doctrine that counts; it’s your experience of Jesus.
He wants to move from lobbing grenades in a culture war to tending wounds in a field hospital.
For him, the new evangelization doesn’t just mean using new means — it means knocking on new doors.
He doesn’t say to strengthen your circle of friends; he says to widen it.
I know, I know; none of this is easy. But, heck, it’s only for 40 days, right?
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.