By now, a lot has been written about the recent controversial interviews of Pope Francis – what the media think he said, what he actually said, what he should or should not have said.
I have seen people suffer because of the confusion the interviews caused. These people are Catholics who, because of their knowledge of and love for their faith, understand what Pope Francis really meant. Out of their loyalty to him, their concern for others, and their love for truth, they patiently explain things to the clueless and defend the pope and orthodoxy against extremes of both liberalism and conservatism. These people would risk their lives or their reputations for the pope and for what he stands for.
These people suffer precisely because of this. While they know that the pope will never change centuries-old truths, and while they see the merits of Pope Francis’ approach, they may find his comments less-than-appreciative of the battles they fight against abortion, divorce, same-sex “marriages”, moral relativism, religious indifferentism, and other ills of the times. Not a few people I know claimed that his remarks in the interviews put their faith on trial. I, too, found myself asking whether one can try to be a saint while having issues with the pope.
Then, I remembered St. Catherine of Siena, who advised, chided, and corrected the pope of her time, yet tenderly called him “sweet Christ on earth.” An Internet search led me to a write-up about this awesome woman’s life and a translation of letter she wrote to Pope Gregory XI. The letter is too long to reproduce in full in this post, but can be read here (scroll down to after the biography). Reading it, I was impressed at how she combined filial criticism with reverence. Her words to the pope may have been strong, but so was her loyalty and affection for him. She taught me that one can, indeed, become a saint while having issues with the pope, provided one resolves those issues the right way.
While popes are chosen by God, they remain human. One’s commitment to the faith may be tested by a particular pope’s idiosyncrasies, but those who find themselves in this situation can take heart, for saints are produced even in such situations. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of a particular pope may be, the faithful remain called to holiness, and holiness will always be possible.
As for how to relate with the pope, I realize that while he may have his weaknesses, he also has his strengths which God, in His infinite wisdom, foresaw that the Church may need at this point in history. I decide to take the cue from St. Catherine of Siena and consider him not only “sweet Christ on earth” but also “holiest sweet father.” A child may not agree with some ways a father does things, and sometimes the child may be right. But a good child recognizes the father as God’s representative, treasures the father’s teachings, defers to the father’s authority, and treats the father with love and respect. So must it be with me and Pope Francis.