Time for another Pop Quiz!
Consider the two following statements:
A: The Church is more than just what the Pope says.
B. The Pope is speaking! Why is no one listening to him?
When and by whom were these two statements made?
1 A was made by liberal Catholics, and B by conservative ones during the pontificate of Benedict?
2. A was made by conservatives and B by Liberals in the wake of Francis' recent interview?
Give up? Or can you guess that this was a trick question?
In the day and a bit that has passed since the interview was released we have seen the spectacle of those who thought the Pope should be absolutely obeyed when the Pope was Benedict now tying themselves into knots over how they can ignore the current Pope along with those who thought the Pope could be ignored under Benedict encouraging all Catholics to suddenly and spontaneously develop an utter fidelity to the will of Pope Francis.
Most bloggers out there are trying to tell people the obvious: that the media cherry picked a few quotes, took them out of context and ran with them to try and get this pope to say what they wanted him to say. Others are in despair or elation, because they either a. believe the media; or b. have cherry picked their own quotes and took them out of context and ran with them to try and get this pope to say what they feared/hoped he would say.
What I am getting from this phenomena of reactions to the interview is that, first and foremost, the left and right wings of the Church are more alike than most people would think. The other thing that is called to mind is the old story of the blind men and the elephant.
You should know the story, but for those who don't, it goes like this. One day, a group of blind men were told there was an elephant near their village. The blind men went out from their village to touch this animal they had heard so much about, so they might know it better.
The first blind man reached out and touched the elephant's trunk. "I see now!" he exclaimed. "The elephant is a snake."
The second blind man touched the elephant's tusk. "Ah, now I understand.," he said. "The elephant is a spear."
The third man touched the ear, and immediately understood that the elephant was a kind of leaf. The next touched the side and knew perfectly that the elephant was a wall, while the man after him touched the leg and realised the elephant was a tree. The last man touched the tail, and from that point onward knew the elephant to be a rope.
After they had all touched the elephant, the blind men began to argue among themselves as to what the elephant was. None would budge or listen to the others, for they all knew they were right. And they were right, but they were also wrong.
So it is with so many Catholics today. The Church is like that elephant, and we are like the blind men. We have each touched our part of the Church, and either through ignorance we know of no other part, or through will we desire that there be nothing other than the Church we have seen or even wish to see. We are not wrong in the part of the Church we have seen: or mistake is in desiring or believe that part to be the only one. But there is much more to the Church than any one man can see and understand in his whole lifetime. Our Pope's touch on their part as well. John Paul II was a missionary without compare in our history- he believed that if the world could not come to Rome, then Rome should come to the world, and he did. Benedict believed that we had lost touch with our roots and needed to be reminded of who we are and from whence we have come, and so he did. Francis is still shaping his pontificate, but he has seen his part, and is framing his direction around it.
Encountering a reality with which we are unfamiliar, or one which is often unwelcome to us is an uncomfortable experience, and we like our comfort. Being reminded that our worldview is not definitive, or even complete, bothers us. Popes come around and shake up our comfort, and I believe that is exactly what they should do. They present the faith to us again in new ways, that we may learn it anew. We should listen to Francis and all our Popes and hear what they have to say even though it may seem strange to us- especially though it seems strange to us- that we may know our Church better and not isolate ourselves in our little piece of it, ignorant utterly of the vast and greater part of it.