Monday 28 October 2013

Some Hate It, I Love It: The "Francis Effect"

By Brother Daniel Leckman, S.J.

Many of us who write on this blog (myself included) have spoken about Pope Francis and the challenges that he poses for us in our 21st century church. So I'm guessing some of our readers are getting tired of “the Francis effect” at this point.  Some readers may argue, “You have collectively said all there was to say about the man. Nothing else needs to be said.”  That may be right, but it won’t stop this brother from continuing to share his reflections!

My inspiration for this entry is that I continue to be in awe of how many people from all walk of life respond to Pope Francis. More specifically, the inspiration for this particular entry lies in three separate events I witnessed in the past few weeks which made me realize just how varied people’s reaction to Francis really was.

1. On the historical side

I am enrolled in a Vatican II class this year at Regis College and can honestly say that there has never been a better time to take this class. This whole semester has been one week after another of inspiring documents and speeches that have restored my hope in what the Church is capable of. What’s even more encouraging for all the people taking this class is that much of what the Pope is saying these days is inspired by the four Dogmatic Constitutions of Vatican II: Gaudium et Spes, Dei Verbum, Lumen Gentium and Sacrosanctum Concilum.  The professor, Meg Lavin, even gave us a copy of the interview Francis gave, published in America Magazine, so that we could explore its parallels to the documents we were reading.

Although Meg often expresses deep enthusiasm for Pope Francis’ meeting with the eight cardinals, we don’t really need any cue from her to understand that this is an exciting time for our Church.  As we read some of these documents in class we realize that Francis is not a Pope that will shy away from the challenges of our modern world.  And yet he will always keep us grounded on the fundamentals of our faith and in the ideas expressed through Vatican II.

2. On the critical side

Conservative Catholics are generally not too excited about Francis and even feel a bit left out by what he’s doing.  They feel as if the Pope is speaking to everyone in the world except them.  Some miss the more academic Pope they had in Benedict.  Others miss the regal aspect of the papacy. Then of course, there’s the pro-life movement that feels the Pope hasn’t said enough on this subject.

Two weeks ago, an article was posted on the National Catholic Reporter that gave a voice to the sense of frustration many American Catholics have with Francis.  The article provided an analogy for it, comparing these Catholics with the prodigal son’s older brother who felt he had been neglected by his father.

3. On the artistic side

Catholic artist Timothy Schmalz is well known in Toronto and abroad. Regis College has greatly benefited from this artist’s work, “Jesus the Homeless”, a statue which now sits at the front of our college. One of his most recent creations is an homage to Francis and is (believe it or not) a little more controversial.

Timothy Schmalz's Jesus the Homeless

The criticism towards this piece is already piling in.  Perhaps it is a little edgy.  However, the way Tim describes it, it’s a piece that was done in the spirit of what Pope Francis represents.  The criticism will continue; some of it will be justified.  However, at this stage, I only feel amazement at this great work.  It reflects the enthusiasm that many in our world are experiencing towards Francis.  And, more importantly, enthusiasm towards Jesus whom the Pope always asks us to keep central to our lives.  If the actions of our Pope can can lead more people like Tim to express their love for Jesus close to the poor with even greater enthusiasm then I can only respond to this with great hope and joy for the future of our Church.

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