Monday, March 18, 2013

"Don't you think she looks tired?"

Two popes, one retired and one new. Both showing us Christ's face in their own personal, unique ways. The reactions I see are so often simply reflections of the people speaking. How do we take the truth and act upon it? The choice is ours.
There is a way of living and thinking that I would name negative, another that I would name active. The first consists in seeing always what is defective in people and institutions, not so much to remedy them as to dominate them, in always looking back, and in looking for whatever separates and disunites. The second consists in joyfully looking life and its responsibilities in the face, looking for the good in everyone in order to develop and cultivate it, in never desparing of the future, the fruit of our will, and in understanding human faults and miseries, expressing that strong compassion which results in action and no long allows us to live a useless life.

Whoever searches for the truth will find God.

As we go along, let us spread ideas, words, and desires, without looking back to see who gathers them up.
Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur
The most surprising thing I've noticed in these first days of Pope Francis are how many people, in the words of Elisabeth Leseur, bring negative thinking instantly to bear.

I am also surprised that I am so surprised when it happens.

I had a rare moment of being in the public eye when Pope Francis was announced. The Takeaway had me on one line and Father Matthew Gamber, a Jesuit priest and senior counselor at Jesuit High School in Florida, on the other line. I was trying to watch streaming coverage from my laptop while listening and responding appropriately. I must say that one of the best parts of that memory was listening to everyone at the Jesuit High School go nuts when Pope Francis was announced.

Due to an understandable lack of coordination considering the event, I wasn't sure when I was done, so Skype was still running for the next guest. I don't recall who it was ... some "known name" in Catholicism ...  but I was stunned at her cold tones saying, "Your previous guests may be cheering because he's a Jesuit or because he took the name Francis, but we don't know who this man is. Some priests cooperated with the death squads in Argentina."

I quit Skype, completely amazed that there was not one sentiment of interest, excitement, or even polite good will from that person.

As it turns out, the Argentinian government was probably cheering to have "a known Catholic name" make such comments because, according to the Wall Street Journal, they "immediately began a campaign to smear the new pontiff's character and reputation at home and in the international news media." (Read more about that in Behind the Campaign to Smear the Pope.)

This is the danger of habitual negative thinking versus active thinking. We can fall right into the Enemy's hands. I'm talking about a supernatural Enemy, of course, who loves to sow discord and separation. This causes doubt and is a great danger to others who may trust and believe that negative thinking.

That is not to mention the danger it does to our own souls.

In RCIA last week we were covering some of the ten commandments. I was particularly struck by our priest's insistence on making sure the distinction between detraction and calumny was very clear.
2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
I now had the precise word for what I'd heard: calumny.


Ironically, just yesterday, I had an example of a different sort of destruction of reputation from a nice church-going acquaintance when we were chatting in the parking lot after Mass.

She was praising Pope Francis. I mentioned that we were lucky because we had the example of two great popes in John Paul II and Benedict XVI and now could watch how Francis built upon their work in his own way.

She made a little face of distaste and said, "Oh. Benedict. I think he was mostly too sick and tired too do much. But we can hope Francis will change things!"

I was stunned. (Yes. Again.)


The man who gave us a new liturgy ... wrote three stunning encyclicals ... a series of teaching homilies that can be treasured for ages to come ... named new bishops and cardinals to replace many who needed it ... who journeyed to many places where faith needed to be seen in that special way only a pope can bring ...

Were we thinking of the same man?

I told Tom this morning. He laughed aloud and shook his head. Then he looked at me and said, "'Don't you think she looks tired?'"

I began laughing too.

He nodded. "Benedict said it himself. He retired because he was 85 and tired. That's all she can remember."


We'd just seen David Tennant's first episode as Dr. Who, when he taught someone a lesson in a similar fashion.
The Doctor: Don't challenge me, Harriet Jones. 'Cause I'm a completely new man. I could bring down your Government with a single word.

Harriet Jones: You're the most remarkable man I've ever met. But I don't think you're quite capable of that.

The Doctor: No, you're right. Not a single word. ... Just six.

Harriet Jones: I don't think so.

The Doctor: Six words.

Harriet Jones: Stop it!

The Doctor: Six.

The Doctor [whispers in Alex's ear]: Don't you think she looks tired?
Dr. Who, The Christmas Invasion, 2005
Those six words lead to a vote of confidence as worries about Jones' health snowballed beyond all other news.

Since this was the first episode of Dr. Who with David Tennant, his companion, Rose, was struggling to reconcile this "new" Doctor with the one she'd known before. As was I. The writers cleverly used Rose's struggles to help us all accept this Doctor.

It struck me that this was a bit of what I was struggling with myself. So much of what I love about Pope Emeritus Benedict is very different from what I see initially in Pope Francis. And yet, I like very much what I have seen of Pope Francis so far. I believe both are holy men. I believe both are showing us a different aspect of Christ.

It is natural to struggle with change, even when it is a good change. It is natural to our natures, so I've been told lately, to tend toward the negative rather than the positive.

I try to take it all in with that "active thought" of Elisabeth Leseur's. To be joyful, to look for the good, to work with compassion. To find truth ... and God.


  1. Lovely, Julie. Rash Judgement, Detraction, Calumny. Man, I hate finding myself in certain parts of the CCC.

  2. Thanks. I needed this today. I am full of hope and love and confidence in our new pontificate, but I'm struggling with frustrations at the church closer to home. I'm sure I will benefit from some looking on the positive side!