As if there weren’t enough articles, blogs, books, interviews, and every other form of print and media already out there about Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI, here is another one. I’m not sure if this will be new or different or change your point of view, but I know that it will help me sort out my thoughts, and hopefully it might do the same for someone else.
Recently I was at a very good Theology on Tap where a priest spoke on Pope Francis and what he is doing and has done already in his less than one year as pope. This priest, educated in Rome during the time of Pope Benedict XVI, presented a narrative that I feel like I’ve read and heard over and over again: the two popes are the same. Sure, they might say some things slightly differently, have different personalities, and emphasize different things, but for the most part they’re the same.
Let me start by saying this: I get this narrative. We as the Church want to make sure that people understand that the faith isn’t changing and that Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow all the way until the end of time. It is important that people understand that Catholic teaching is not changing according to the tenets of the world, and that Pope Francis doesn’t want it to. In fact, this point is extremely important. Pope Francis still hates abortion and wants it to end; Pope Benedict XVI spoke out against neglect of the poor in an extreme way. The beliefs of these two men are the teachings of the Church, and so it is true that they are the same.
All this is very true, however it may be just as important for us in the Church to emphasize their differences, for the beauty of the Church might shine more in the differences of these two men than their similarities. Pope Benedict XVI once said that the most convincing arguments for the Church are its saints and its art; wouldn’t the difference of these two men emphasize what it is we find so beautiful in the saints? The beauty of the Church is not that it makes every person the same, but that it allows each person to become the best version of himself. If a person who is not currently a faithful Catholic, or maybe not Catholic at all, wants to emphasize how different Pope Francis is, maybe we shouldn’t jump to remind them that they’re the same. Instead, we should use that as a way to explain that the Church and Christ Himself allow a person to come alive, not to blend in. Pope Francis is very different from Pope Benedict XVI, just as St. Moses the Black and Blessed Mother Teresa were very different, and that really is okay.
I am writing this piece in large part because it is taking me a while to come around to really understanding Pope Francis. An avid lover of everything that had anything to do with Pope Benedict XVI, the differences between him and Pope Francis mixed with people telling me that they were the same left me more confused than anything. I heard Pope Francis say something or saw him do something that was very new, but then was told that it was the same as Pope Benedict XVI, and I struggled to make sense of it. Changing the narrative, though, and understanding that they are very different people who love and serve the same God, is helping me to see that them being different is not a bad thing, but rather a very good example of the Body of Christ.