“I saw the Holy Father in a very big house, kneeling by a table, with his head buried in his hands, and he was weeping. Outside the house, there were many people. Some of them were throwing stones, others were cursing him and using bad language. Poor Holy Father, we must pray very much for him.”
– Saint Jacinta Marto
One of the dangers of social media in our day is that we run the risk of believing everything we read. Of course, not everything we read online is actually true, and so we need to exercise a degree of discernment – checking facts and the (apparent) sources of quotations and of claims made, and placing things in context rather than simply accepting them at face value.
We also need to exercise prudence in our online responses; it is all too easy to read something and immediately respond to it. I know from bitter personal experience that this is often the wrong thing to do, and can be regretted at a later moment. If this is a danger for the average person, how much more of a danger can it be if we present ourselves as ‘Christian’ or ‘Catholic’ to the online community.
A particular feature of the present day is the tendency to criticise the Pope; whilst the Holy Fathers have always been sport for the written and spoken barbs of others, those others were generally – in days past, at least – outside of the Catholic Faith.
In the present time, the real danger is coming from some who profess to be Catholic.
No doubt, most of these are well-intentioned – but that does not lessen the damage they are capable of producing. While most of those who criticise and castigate the Holy Father may be well-intentioned, even if they get things wrong, we should be aware that there are also some whose intentions are decidely dark and nefarious, and others who will be used by those with dark intentions. Remember, our battle is – above all else – a spiritual one.
The damage caused by attacks on the Holy Father takes two forms.
The first form is the damage to the unity of the Church – how can we say we are members of the Catholic Church whilst our words and our hearts are openly in combat with the Shepherd who has been given the task of leading the Church? And when these people are Cardinals, Bishops, Priests or Deacons, or organisations describing themselves as ‘Catholic’ – what message does this send not only to those outside of the Church, but to her own members? Where is the unity? Where is the loyalty? Our Church is ONE, holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
The second form is the damage to ourselves – to our spiritual life and to our soul. Walking the path of criticism of the Pope carries with it the danger that, unchecked, we will eventually find ourselves distancing ourselves from the Church herself. After all, how can we remain in the Church if we believe she is heading in the wrong direction and is being led astray by the one whose very task it is to lead and govern her?
Have we no faith in the Lord, whose promise to Peter means that a Holy Father can never err in matters of faith or morals? Regardless of our thoughts on the person who is Pope at a given moment, still he is the Pope – and this demands our loyalty and the submission of our will and our religious intellect to his teaching magisterium – this includes not only his officially promulgated documents, but also the teaching he gives day after day. We might think a particular Pope has ‘got it wrong’ in some way – and if we do, we need to stop, take stock, check our ‘facts’ and then ask ourselves what is more likely: that the Pope is indeed wrong as we believe, or perhaps that our understanding is at issue. Or simply that what is being reported is either inaccurate or just not true. Stop and think for a moment – do you honestly believe that you know better than the Pope when it comes to the Catholic Faith? It takes docility, humility and charity to do this; but the effort will be well-rewarded.
How do we resolve this situation?
We need to pray and we need to TRUST in the Lord; it is His Church and His Mystical Body – and He has already promised that she will not go astray and will never be overcome by evil. That is our starting point – trust in the Lord. And the Holy Father of any given moment has been placed there by the Lord, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for a very good reason – regardless of whether or not we know (or understand) that reason. Again, we must TRUST the Lord. His divine will shall always prevail.
We also need to be prudent and discerning, as noted already. We should not automatically believe something that is reported as fact, nor should we be too quick to deliver a judgment, especially where this is negative. We ought also to remember the sin of calmuny, which is the damage to the reputation of another. This is a serious sin and one that is not always easily undone.
As Catholics, we are aware that our first aim is to make use of this life in order to reach Heaven, our true home – and to do all in our power to ensure we don’t arrive there alone, but assisting other souls to reach there too. Charity is, as the Lord said in the Gospel, something which covers a multitude of sins – and which may well tip the balance for us, one way or another, depending on how we have exercised it.
Our hope of reaching Heaven lies in our membership of – and communion with – the Church; she is designed precisely to get us to Heaven, her Sacraments assisting us greatly along the way, especially at those times when we fail in one way or another. But in order for this to happen, we need to be part of the Church – united to her in our will, our heart and our mind; and that means remaining united to the Holy Father.
So what do we need to do?
If you ‘like’ (for want of a better word) this particular Holy Father (or the next one, or the one after), then pray for him. Pray for him every single day – he needs our prayers.
And if you do not ‘like’ this (or any future) Holy Father – pray for him every single day. And if you find yourself in this latter category, these prayers will have greater merit because they will require a greater degree of charity, humility, docility and TRUST in the Lord.
May the Lord greatly bless our Holy Father Pope Francis. And may the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Church, smile upon him and keep him always close to Her Immaculate Heart.