Worried About Francis? Here's What to Do.

By Chris Sparks

In my last column, we took a look at what sets Pope Francis apart from his predecessors, talked through the consequences of those differences, and got a sense of how we might be misunderstanding him or being confused by him as a result.

So if we’re confused, scandalized, or tempted to leave communion with the Holy Father, what should we do?

  1. Read Francis’ own words. Rarely do controversies about the words of popes actually accurately deal with the words and manifest intentions of the popes. I’ve often said to people that if they attempt to understand Pope Benedict solely by media portrayals or people writing about him, they’ll never get who he is, what he actually thinks or teaches, or why I think he’s so great. You have to read Pope Benedict in order to understand Pope Benedict — and I think you’ll come to love him.

The same holds true in spades for Pope Francis. Now, we patriotic citizens of the United States may be tempted to take issue with some of Pope Francis’ attitudes and comments about the U.S. I’d recommend you carefully read his homilies and addresses from his 2015 visit to the U.S. (the very first time in his life he’d ever actually set foot on our soil). Those may be the only times when he was speaking to the U.S. directly. Most of the time, he’s not got us in mind when he’s speaking or acting. So you want to know what he wants us to hear? Revisit the 2015 papal visit. Also, read up on the history of Argentine relations with the United States, especially in Pope Francis’ lifetime. That’ll help you understand his perspective on us. 

  1. No matter what, refuse to go into schism, that is, leaving communion with the Bishop of Rome. The Catechism says of schism:

The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith: … "schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him (CIC, can. 751: emphasis added.)” (2088, 2089).

To go into schism would be to sin; to take others with you, even worse. Take Jesus’ words seriously:

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe [in me] to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where "their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mk 9:42-48; see also Mt 5:29-30).

  1. If you’re really that concerned about Pope Francis, his teaching, or his public acts — concerned to the point of considering leaving the Church, following traditionalist bishops or priests into schism, or in any other way cutting your ties with the Bishop of Rome — then “cut off your ears” in order to save your soul. Stop paying attention to what’s going on in Rome. After all, Catholics for millennia have managed to live good, sacramental lives while hearing from Rome very rarely, if at all, and usually only the major news several weeks after the fact. You can become a saint, and even a great saint, all while not having the foggiest clue what the Holy Father said on his plane ride home. You can save your soul and do great good for God while ignoring the latest controversial Roman appointment, the latest administrative moves in pontifical institutes, or the most recent instrumentum laboris for the synod. 

Stop reading the news and stick to the Scriptures, the Catechism, the Compendium of Social Teaching, and (I would say) the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Live the Divine Mercy message and devotion; live “Jesus, I trust in You.” Like St. Faustina, pray for the Holy Father, for priests, bishops, and religious. Receive the Sacraments and make use of the devotions and other means of grace given by Christ through His Church in order to become holy and bless those around you. Pray the Rosary daily for peace in the world. Perform the Divine Mercy devotions faithfully, praying the Chaplet every day for all the virtues and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the Holy Father and all the clergy, our consecrated religious, and the whole Church. Make the First Saturdays devotion, continuing even after you’ve completed Five First Saturdays, so as to lead other people into the devotion and hasten the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart.

Your lived sanctity, your prayers, your love of God and neighbor will do far more good for Christ, His Church, and the world than your fruitless worrying, your anxiety about things over which you are not called to worry. I know; I’m a champion worrier, often anxious, and you know what? My trust, my prayers, my works of mercy, and my efforts to fulfill the duties of my state in life have all done infinitely more good than all my worrying.

No matter what Pope Francis says or does, it’ll be fine. The Church rests on the foundations of the promises of Christ, not on the prudence of the successor of St. Peter. We’ve been through much, much worse, and Pope Francis is far better than fear, rumors, or the many ways in which he doesn’t translate well to an American context might make him seem. 

Pray for the Holy Father and Holy Mother Church, live a sacramental, prayerful, merciful life, and study and spread the faith, as given in Scripture, the Catechism, the liturgy, the Magisterium, and the writings of saints and Doctors of the Church.

As the mystic Julian of Norwich once wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Jesus, I trust in You.

Chris Sparks serves as book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question. Order it here:

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