I’m not sure I was ever going to like the new Pope more than Benedict, Benedict was Pope when I converted and I’m convinced that his liturgical leanings were and are still the way the Church needs to go, especially in Europe where it is struggling to differentiate itself from protestantism in some areas. I’m also fairly convinced Benedict is still one of the foremost theological minds in Christendom.
So we have a new Pope, first non European, first southern hemisphere, first Jesuit, first to be called Francis. And in a lot of ways Francis is the diametric opposite to Benedict. Francis isn’t a liturgical traditionalist, Francis hasn’t published a vast raft of theological thinking in books. Francis hasn’t had any role in the Curia. So what we are looking at is a purely practical man of action. This of course is a good thing in and of itself. We do need a leader willing to roll up his sleeves and sweep up the problems in the Curia, a battle to which Benedict expected help and obedience from his subordinates but instead met with resistance, a man who will get involved in the struggle personally is very welcome indeed.
But still I can’t help but feel that any Pope who puts liturgical reform on the back burner will inevitably preside over ever thinning ranks in the pews in Europe. Quite simply, in Europe at least, there are many Christian charisms that we should be doing, but aren’t, and the reason why we aren’t is because all the people who are good at doing them are protestants now. Prayer groups, Bible study, evangelisation etc etc etc. Frankly if the Mass begins to look like just a jolly good sing song there are plenty of protestant communities that do this better than we do.
This new Pope seems to be eschewing his bodyguards to meet the people too, so yes charisma and a common touch are also there in abundance, or maybe he’s trying to be martyred before the toughest job in the world takes its toll… I also can’t help but think that his record on social doctrine will make him more of a darling with the left wing media. He’ll be afforded a slight honeymoon perhaps? (well apart from the Guardian, who have already tried to do a hatchet job on him) and his personal austerity is being contrasted (in the media) with that of Benedict (which is daft, Benedict was and is a very austere man).
My worry is; will this austerity be spread to the liturgy? Is the Pope going to turn out in polyester like so many other priests in Europe, keeping the silk in the cupboard to get moth eaten? I hope not. The only reason why the Church has things of beauty is because the poor donated them for the glory of God. A priests vestments are there to glorify the priesthood and Christ, not the man wearing them and this should be especially true of Popes.
Then finally, as almost a footnote, there is the Pope’s stance on the Falklands, which is thoroughly predictable for an Argentinian. I doubt the Pope will ever bring the subject up again for fear of alienating every Catholic in Britain… Argentina has less of a claim to the Falklands than France or Spain, Britain has had a settlement on the Islands continuously since 1833 and had one before that too. Buenos Aires’ position has no regard for history, for democracy and their invasion thirty years ago and the current harassment of the islanders shows a total lack of respect for international law. No the Pope won’t be mediating the dispute because there is nothing to talk about.
So yes, we will have to wait and see what this man of actions, not words, can achieve. We should all pray for him that God will give him the strength to do some of the unpleasant cleaning house that he has to do. I thank God that we have a Pope, I can altar serve again without the glaring gap of not praying for the holy father.