Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"The Francis Effect" and Me

via Wikimedia Commons
I was relatively unmoved by the idea of Pope Francis coming to America. After all, it wasn't as if I were going to be meeting him. Though I wish him well, I haven't felt personal interest in him. And I didn't feel that he really had a very personal interest in the United States or cared about our culture, just to be honest. Other than possibly to bring us under a critical eye. (Sorry, but that's just how I was feeling from my little part of the Catholic world.)

My main reaction was amazement that a 78-year old would have the stamina to make state visits to Cuba and then carry out a papal U.S. tour with a grueling schedule. I began praying for his health.

Then Pope Francis began speaking and, as I linked to the full text of his addresses for others, I began reading them myself.

I was impressed. And touched. These were the words of someone who clearly had prepared by caring enough to find out what mattered to us. Our heroes were mentioned. Our proud history as a nation of immigrants. Our current struggles.

Over and over, Pope Francis was reaching out toward us in the way we'd understand best, by showing us that he cared about who we are. Which, after all is what a good shepherd does.

It came together for me when watching Archbishop Thomas Wenski on Stephen Colbert's "pope-isode" (which was terrific, by the way). Colbert asked him what the pope was trying to do with visits to Cuba and the U.S. The bishop replied simply, "He's trying to change the culture."

Of course.

I mean, I knew that. But I didn't know it, it didn't hit home until then.

Both Cuba and the U.S. need culture changes to be what we should be in God's eyes, walking in God's way. For all our differences, we are exactly the same. We fall far short, just in ways that reflect our different cultures, our ways of seeing the world. This applies to every country on earth. We all need a culture change. And I was seeing Pope Francis put in the time and effort, pouring himself out, to try to get us to see where the change needs to happen.

This isn't what I'd call "the Francis effect" because what happened to me was fairly gentle. It was a new appreciation for Francis because I suddenly felt as if he cared about me, for who I am as an American. Certainly it made me read his addresses more thoughtfully, with more thought for my own life. (Book publishers, do we have a "Francis Talks to the U.S." book planned - with all these talks in it? Because I wouldn't even wait for the library to get it. I'd buy it.)

Tom's been reading Pope Francis's address to Congress a few paragraphs at a time. It has stimulated a lot of conversation. But we always comes back to the key point: where do we need to pour ourselves out?

Obviously we change the culture simply by being fully ourselves in daily life. If every single Christian did that always, then our culture would change. But that is far from all that we can or should do. It isn't how Jesus lived or the first Christians or the saints. How do we be like that? Where should we pour ourselves out?

Side note: speaking of "the Francis effect," I've also seen similar results from visits by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict here and abroad. I tend to agree with Ross Douthat's assessment.
But there is a common thread that binds Benedict’s success despite low expectations and often-savage coverage and Francis’s success amid high enthusiasm and generally-fawning coverage: Secularism is weaker than many people think.


  1. I was surprised by my reaction to the visit too. I don't connect to Francis the way I connected to Benedict, and I didn't really care about the visit at first either. But a friend invited me to join a group going to see him from an Opus Dei center we both attend, and since the price was right, and since I didn't get to travel at all this summer, and since it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and since they really needed one more person to get the group rate, I decided to go. I was pretty ambivalent about it though. Then, when the pope arrived on US soil I was surprised to feel -- excited! The best way to describe my feeling was that it was like having a friend visit my house for the first time. I was excited and happy to have my home on show, to turn the place out to its best advantage, and to have him see it.

    It's interesting, I sometimes roll my eyes at people who talk like Francis is telling us all something new. I mean, I have known my whole life that obviously charity and service are essential for the Christian life. After all it was our church that insisted on faith AND works, right? But I have to admit, I've started thinking critically about my own actions since Francis mania hit the media. Do I do enough? Do I really care? It's hard not to see the pope visiting the homeless and prisoners, or embrace severely disabled people, and not think about how, realistically speaking, I would be hesitant and afraid to even come close to those people. So it might not be something new, but I shouldn't think I can't find something new in it.

  2. Julie, I had the privilege of having a ticket to the Papal Mass in NYC at Madison Square Garden. I too connected with Benedict more so than Francis, but being there and listening to his homily had a profound effect on me too, and I posted on it at my blog here:

  3. Thank you both for sharing these great stories. I think, above all, they show that we can predict all we want but it is personal experience and interaction where God changes lives and hearts. :-)

    1. You're welcome. Hey I just noticed you include my blog on your blog roll. Thank you. That's very kind.