Habemus Papam! We have a pope! And already Pope Francis is under the microscope of media speculation. In the past few days I have read that as Archbishop of Buenos Ares he was a strong supporter of liberation theology. I have also read that he was very critical of liberation theology. I have read that he was unenthusiastic about Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontificum, which liberated the Tridentine Mass, blocking attempts by his priests to implement it. I have also read that he welcomed Summorum, and within 48 hours of its issuance had already established a parish in downtown Buenos Ares to celebrate the old Mass.
These are reports from the past; what about now that he is pope? His first morning as pontiff he went the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome to pray to the Blessed Mother. That is also the titular church of Bernard Cardinal Law, who resigned from the Archdiocese of Boston 10 years ago in disgrace over his role in the child sex abuse scandals. According to some media reports, Pope Francis met Cardinal Law there and warmly greeted him, "rubbing salt in the wounds" of abuse victims. But according to other media reports, Pope Francis had Cardinal Law banished from his titular church altogether and refused to see him!
Which version is the "real" Pope Francis? Obviously you cannot believe everything you read.
Why do we do this? Why do we immediately seek to critique and judge? The first thing we often do is look for faults in the newcomer, reasons to not like him. Even if it means having to make something up. This is a serious fault. This is a sin.
In today's Gospel reading, the scribes and the Pharisees bring a woman before Jesus. This woman, they tell him, is an adulterer. In fact, she was caught in the act! And according to the Law, she should be stoned. "So what do you say?" they ask our Lord.
Note that they do not stone her themselves, which according to their minds, they should have every right to do. That is not enough. They have to bring her before Jesus, involving Him, asking Him to mete out the punishment, looking for Him to smile upon their righteous disapproval. They have courage enough to accuse, courage enough to condemn, but when it comes to doing something about it, not so much...
But our Lord would have none of it. "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone," He tells them. Deflated, they all began to walk away. As for the woman caught in adultery, Jesus does not condemn her. Instead He loves her. He forgives her. And He commands her to leave her old life behind and sin no more.
Maybe you are excited about the election of Pope Francis. Maybe you have read some critical commentary that makes you uneasy about his papacy. Either way, I encourage you to try one thing. Try loving him. And refrain from comparing him with Benedict XVI or John Paul II. That's not your job. And he is neither of those men. He is Francis, and God will judge his papacy according to whether he is the best Francis he can be.
I can guarantee you one thing about our new Holy Father. He is a sinner in need of forgiveness. In that he is just like you and me.
I can guarantee you another thing. He is a new creation. Cardinal Bergoglio is no more. The life of Pope Francis is just beginning. He's like you and I in that regard, as well.
Allow me to quote from today's first reading from Isaiah:
The Lord is capable of making all things new; including the Church, including you and me. We are constantly in need of renewal -- all of us. Whether we are talking about a new neighbor, a new pastor, a new campus minister, a new bishop, a new professor, or a new pope, allow the Holy Spirit to work something new in him. Allow the Holy Spirit to work something new in yourself. This is the whole purpose of the sacramental life of the Church. Each Confession and Absolution, each reception of the Eucharist, is a call to leave our former lives behind and become a new creation in Christ. This is the point of our Baptism, of our Confirmation. It is something we recommit ourselves to each Sunday at Mass when we stand up and say, "I believe..." It is something we each ask for when we say, "Lord, I am not worthy... but only say the word..."Remember not the events of the past,the things of long ago consider not;see, I am doing something new!Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Pray for Pope Francis and pray for our Church. Pray to the Lord who makes all things new.