My kids are often up and running at full blast before I'm able to finish my morning cup of coffee - and today it gave me insight into how Pope Francis must be feeling about all the controversy over his interviews.
It's six in the morning, and my house is already filled with screaming. Oh sure, lots of it is laughter, but it's still at a decibel level that clearly counts as “screaming.” (I think my ears are bleeding as I type this.)
If safety equipment manufacturers REALLY cared about kids, they'd invent some time-sensitive force field that kept them fifty yards away from any parent who had not yet had that morning cup of coffee. It’s not that they mean to be so shrill; it’s just that they – these kids I find swarming in my house – move at such a fast pace, it’s difficult for them to understand what I’m trying to say to them.
I’ve barely thought my way past that first sip of caffeine, and I’ve already had people demand I tell them what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; had to endure both the howls of outrage that we’re having beans and rice again, and the shrill cheers from the pro-beans and rice camp; then listened to the roar of confusion when it’s discovered that I didn’t actually say “beans and rice,” but rather, “Let me drink my darn coffee first, please.”
Apart from the obvious differences in holiness and sphere of influence, I bet this is exactly how Pope Francis feels lately. As the response to his two most recent interviews illustrate, he is surrounded by screaming and yelling people who won’t even let the poor man have a drink of coffee first. Social media and the Internet have shrunk response time down to exactly zero.
I watched with mixed resignation and exasperation as his America interview was consumed by liberal media outlets and repackaged into agenda-friendly sound bytes. I watched the faithful first tear out their hair about what they thought the Pope said, then gnash their teeth over what other people thought the Pope said. Francis was condemned for speaking, then condemned for not speaking enough. Like my kids, freaking out over a dinner item that was never actually mentioned, the screaming was too loud to hear anything over.
Then came the La Repubblica interview – the interview that had places like the Huffington Post breathlessly using exclamation marks in their headlines and sent certain Catholic bloggers into fits of apoplexy (my favorite one, a miserable little blog in a truly hateful corner of the “Latin Mass only” section of the Internet, filled the entire week following the interview’s publication with daily reminders that the Pope was the anti-Christ, and all who disagreed were demonically possessed). Even people who took a more moderate view still wished that the Holy Father would stop giving interviews and stick to scripted stuff.
Even when news came out that the La Repubblica interview was not conducted under the most trustworthy of circumstances (I’m in my late thirties, and I can’t remember word-for-word the conversation I had with my child 10 minutes ago. To imagine an 89-year old perfectly reconstructing an entire interview without the use of tape recording or written notes is ridiculous), the howling still didn’t stop. If anything, it got louder as Catholics Filled With Righteous Fury started clamoring for a papal muzzle and the mainstream media continued their rebranding of Francis as the “Finally Gets It” Pope.
In all that screaming, a charming exchange in Assisi was overlooked where the Pope – speaking off the cuff once again – answered questions about marriage. In the midst of declaring that marriage was between one man and one woman for life, and that marriage was every bit a vocation as the calling to religious life, he jokes with a woman who asks how she can get her 30-year old son to marry his girlfriend. The Pope’s funny-because-it’s-true quip – “Well madam, stop ironing his shirts then!” – was lost in the noise.
Here’s the thing: at some point in the morning, the coffee’s done its job, I can make a coherent sentence, and I could address each yelled demand and concern one by one. But lots of times, I don’t. Instead, I go about my duties, making breakfast, preparing the lessons for the school day, and smile pleasantly at the army of children around me. Then, slowly, the most amazing thing happens. Suddenly, one child helps a sibling put on that costume, just to get the shrieking to stop. Another child, who had been screaming about peanut butter and jelly for lunch, finally looks at the menu, sees that he’d misread what was there, and walks away happy. Slowly, the screaming stops because the kids, realizing that I’m not going to solve their problems for them, start finding real solutions.
This is the gift we’re being offered with Pope Francis. We’re being offered the chance to remember what the Gospel is about, and what it isn’t. We’re being offered the chance to remember why the Church bothers having moral guidelines at all, and Who those guidelines are intended to draw us closer to. So many of us have made false idols of politics and culture wars and even, oddly enough, our religion itself, that the Pope’s refusal to encourage that idolatry with his words sends us into frothy fits of screaming.
But if we pause for a moment and reflect in silence, it becomes clear that Pope Francis is asking us to use our indoor voices, and to direct them to our brothers and sisters who need help. And maybe – just maybe – the next time a papal interview comes out, we can take a collective deep breath, wait for that first sip of coffee, and let our brains catch up to, and hopefully direct, our mouths.