Well we have our first Francis!
What a surprise! What to make of it? Here are some rather spontaneous thoughts:
- I note that very little of the commentary leading up to this day predicted this outcome. Remember this the next time someone says, "here's what the inside skinny is."
- Once again, we have a pope who will cause a large segment of the Church to rejoice that "one of ours" has arrived in the chair of Peter. Thirty-five years ago, it was Poland; last time it was Germany; today it's Latin America and all the many Spanish-speaking Catholics. What will this mean?
- I notice a lot of more tradition-minded Catholics--I consider myself one of them--are puzzled and concerned. Will he be a friend to tradition? Will he continue Pope Benedict's vision of the liturgy and the Council? Or will he tack a different way? I have no idea. Certainly these things concern me, too.
- Very candidly, this isn't the man I hoped would be elected, nor is he one I expected or prepared for. So much for my plans!
- This is a reminder--to me in particular--that what I think is best isn't necessarily what God thinks.
- My thoughts go back to the last two popes, who weren't necessarily the popes we were looking for, but I think they were popes we needed. Why should this time be different?
- When I re-entered the Church in 1991, and when I entered the seminary in 1997, I did some soul-searching. The Church isn't perfect. So often, our experience of the Church doesn't match our expectations and hopes. And I remember concluding--when I wrestled with this in the seminary--that I am not called to love the Church of my imagining, but the Church that is.
- The holy father, and the cardinals who chose him, are well aware of the challenges. Let us have confidence.
Update. Here's some comments I posted at the site of my friend Father John Zuhlsdorf:
I admit I was flummoxed by this choice, and I still don’t know what to think. But to quote a brother priest, when we were seminarians: “isn’t that why they call it faith?”
Now, our lacrimose friends at Rorate have already weighed the papacy of Francis and found it wanting. Poor man! His pontificate is dubbed a failure in less than six hours! Seriously, however, they have cited some concerns; go there if you want to see them.
So, there’s that.
Now let’s consider some other things.
- The reform that Pope Benedict initiated was not a top-down affair. This was by design. Perhaps now we see the wisdom of that. No; when Pope Benedict set about to effect a hermeneutic of continuity and recover tradition, he didn’t do it via mandates; he did it via one, stunning permission: freeing the older form of the Mass. Unless Pope Francis repeals or restricts it (which I think unlikely), it will have its effect.
- The cardinals who chose him include a lot of men Benedict chose carefully. The notion that they were repudiating Benedict seems awfully dubious. Why not seek less improbable explanations first?
Perhaps they chose him because they see different challenges from eight years ago, and this is the man the group, collectively, could support to best deal with those challenges. Namely, governance. The cardinals who voted for him may well think that the causes advanced by Benedict will continue forward well enough, while Francis does other things that need to be done–and which Benedict seems to have thought needed to be done.
- There is a question about liturgy. Our traditionalist friends fear Pope Francis will be terrible on the liturgy. Well, to cite a phrase I like from a character in “The Green Mile,” “I don’t want to chew that food till I have to.” Let’s wait and see.
- Then there is his choice of name. Francis. If this is about Assisi, then think deeply about that model. Not the shallow, flower-child idea, but the real Saint Francis. Think long and hard about what he stood for, what he did. “Rebuild my church” comes to mind.
- Finally, let’s suppose our gloomy friends are right. Now let’s consider history. Paul VI was probably the least satisfying pope to traditionalists in recent memory. Yet he gave us Humanae Vitae, one of the most stellar (and courageous) actions of a pope in a long time. It gives me chills to think of that episode in our history, and how the hand of Providence was at work.