In a recent interview the Holy Father reveals his compassionate side
Soon after Pope Francis was elected I commented about him and his two predecessors. The blog post compared the three popes to the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion in the children’s film The Wizard of Oz. The Scarecrow lacked a brain, the Tin Man lacked a heart and the lion lacked courage. The three popes, on the other hand, evidenced these three traits in abundance. Pope St John Paul II, whose first words as pope were, “Do not be afraid!” was courageous one. Intellectual Pope Benedict XVI was the brainy one in the trio and Pope Francis (unlike the Tinman) is the pope with the big heart.
In a recent interview with the Argentinian paper, La Voz del Pueblo the pope reveals his compassionate side, and as he does so, he reveals the strengths and weaknesses of being big-hearted. He spoke to Juan Barretta about “the gift of tears." Dramatic and tragic human situations touch him deeply. The pope said, “When I saw what is happening to the Rohingya people (from Myanmar),” who have piled on to boats seeking asylum. “When they get close to shore, they are given something to eat, some water, then pushed back out to sea.”
Sick children also draw his compassion, “This breaks my heart.” The pope said, “When I see those creatures I say to the Lord, ‘Why them and not me?’” Likewise, visiting young people in jail makes the pope aware of his own weakness. He always thinks, “‘I could be here.’ In other words, none of us can be certain that we would never commit a crime, something for which we’d be imprisoned.”
His public compassion has endeared him to millions worldwide. People feel they can connect with him and that he understands their joys and sorrows. However, Pope Francis also admits that his big heart can get him into trouble. The problem is his mouth opens just as much as his heart does. He sees problems and sometimes acts first and thinks later. Pope Francis said in the interview, “I am fairly fearless; I act without thinking about the consequences. Sometimes this creates headaches because I’ll say more than I should.”
It is this trait which has brought Francis the most criticism—especially from conservative Catholics. Pope Benedict XVI—a veteran of the Vatican and always the careful theologian, knew when to speak and when to keep silent. A deeply sensitive person, Benedict XVI was diplomatic and cautious. When things went wrong despite his precise approach, he felt it deeply and was inclined to withdraw further. A reluctant pontiff from the beginning, Pope Benedict clearly felt the strain of office and the increasing difficulties of dealing with the stress on a day-to-day basis.
Francis’ more freewheeling style has caused Catholics to stop and take stock. They have had to adapt to a pope who shoots from the hip and speaks from the heart. For some the transition has not been easy. For others, Pope Francis is exactly the breath of fresh air the Catholic Church has needed. With the truths of the faith firmly stated with John Paul and Benedict, some are ready for a more open-ended approach.
With this in mind, when Pope Francis “creates headaches because he says more than he should” instead of getting upset Catholics should take a deep breath and realize that Pope Francis is “the heart” of the papacy as John Paul was “the courage” and Benedict was “the brains.” All three are important and all three balance one another. All three have their strengths and weaknesses. Some time ago I wrote a blog post giving advice for those Catholics who were having headaches over Pope Francis.
The bottom line is that worried Catholics need to understand Pope Francis, learn to share his compassionate perspective and “go with the flow.” The Holy Spirit is in charge, and if Pope Francis is not the careful theologian or courageous philosopher that his predecessors are, then he brings his own gifts and personality to the papacy.
Pope Francis reminds us that at the heart of the church’s message is God’s fatherly love for his people. Because of this the church administers the sacraments of salvation and teaches the timeless doctrines and moral guidelines. She stands up against tyranny, works for peace and justice, reaches out to people of other religions, and proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ. Pope Francis’ big heart reminds us that all this is not an end in itself, but a means to an end—which is to express the love of God for all of his people.
Pope Francis is a “people’s pope." As he says himself in this week’s interview, “I became a priest to be with people,” the pope said. “I give thanks to God that this is still true.”
Connect with Fr Longenecker’s blog, Standing on My Head through his website, dwightlongenecker.com