Inside and outside the Catholic world, Pope Francis has undeniably become (to borrow a somewhat trite phrase from social media) a “trending” figure since March 2013. It seems to me that, since his election, hardly a week has been able to go by before some new article or blog post has been published about him (like this one). His off-the-cuff remarks and airplane interviews are quickly seized by news outlets, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, and quite often are used to paint him as a more-or-less revolutionary figure, one who is finally willing to discuss hot topics that were previously closed-off. Within the Church, to give a hugely oversimplified summary of things as I’ve seen them (one not meant to be exhaustive in any sense), it seems that those on the left see him as either a disappointment (since he hasn’t gone as far as they’d like) or as a long-overdue savior who has helped to rescue the Church from the Middle Ages—a savior from whom promising changes are sure to come. It appears that Catholics on the right see him either as a disappointment (since he has thoroughly maintained and even deepened the “modern status quo”) or, depending on how “far” right one looks, as a genuine danger to the wellbeing of the Church.
There’s also the interestingly-polarizing issue (largely discussed in the Catholic blogosphere, but in secular sources as well if the issue can be used to set up an easy dichotomy between this man and those who have come before him) of the pope’s clothes. Some people treat his wardrobe like a breath of fresh air, seeing in him a genuinely “human” pope whose prompt abandonment of papal trappings and customs is a move well-worth praising. Jesus, after all, lived a humble life from His birth to His death, so why should the pope treat himself like medieval royalty? Others, generally those who would be designated by titles such as “conservative” (or the more stigmatizing “traditionalist”), are unsettled by this same approach, seeing in it a disrespect to the dignity of the Papal office, an attempt to make the pope “just like everyone else,” or a political statement about the “humility” (or lack thereof?) of his predecessors. Still others couldn’t care less what the pope wears.
As for me, I’ve generally avoided sharing any personal opinions concerning our much-talked-about Pontiff. I’ve also avoided talking about the controversial issues that so many of his statements have caused. Those are left to people smarter than I, and besides, although this is certainly not true across the board, I think that, in some cases, no one besides Pope Francis knows clearly what Pope Francis means when he says the latest ambiguous or unsettling comment. I still don’t plan to delve into those areas, really, as I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do that.
But I just remembered something that would do everyone, and most especially Pope Francis himself, a lot of good.
Remember when Pope Francis first stepped out onto the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica two years ago? What did he ask people to do as his pontificate went forward?
“Pray for me.”
Let me ask you this: do you remember to pray for Pope Francis? Whether people like or dislike the man, he needs prayers. He’s human. He may be the Vicar of Christ on Earth, but he has strengths and weaknesses, just like anyone else. I can’t speak for others, but I, for one, get so distracted by the frequent discussions about Pope Francis that I rarely remember to ask God to give His divine aid to the man who leads His Church. On and off the internet, I’ve heard people say they wish the Holy Father would measure his words more carefully, so as not to give way to unorthodox interpretations of his statements. I’ve heard some say they wish he’d not be so quick to hurl names at groups he disagrees with. I’ve heard people say they wish he’d stop giving his own opinions about so many things. Those are all perfectly understandable wishes, especially considering that the pope is a prime target for secular news outlets that are eagerly awaiting for new statements to spin. But (and again, I can’t speak for others—this is purely food for thought) no amount of frustration over the Latest Papal Comment, however well-founded (and they frequently are well-founded), will have any good effect compared to frequent and genuine prayers on the Holy Father’s behalf. If people want the pope to become a fierce and unambiguous defender of orthodoxy, they ought to frequently and ardently pray that God would move him to be one. To some extent, one might say the goodness of the pope is as good as the number of people who pray for him.
Whether people like or dislike Pope Francis, there is one request of his that everyone can, and indeed must, fulfill: the request to charitably pray for him as he fulfills his Petrine ministry.
As one who has frequently forgotten to do this, I now want to assure the Holy Father that I will do my best to remember to pray for him, frequently and genuinely, from now on.
Would others please do so with me?