Well, it’s already begun. Barely two weeks into his papacy, persons calling themselves ‘real’ Catholics are already criticizing Francis for being who he is, rather than being a pope completely in line with their own thinking. It seems that they accept the involvement of the Holy Spirit in papal elections only when the outcome results in mirror images of their own thinking and their own ways of believing.
Calling themselves ‘traditionalists’, they are objecting to just about all of Francis’ actions since being elected—actions that differ from the way things are supposed to be, in their minds: washing the feet of woman; including Muslims in a Holy Thursday Mass; not wearing the fancy yet outdated clothing that sets the pope apart from every other believer; not being adamant about bringing back Latin as the sole language of Church worship. In other words, they object that he is validating Vatican II and its vision of Church.
To my ears, one of the most encouraging statements the new pope has made so far is about how the focus of the Church should not be on preserving itself as an institution but rather on serving the needs of the world, especially its world. The Church should not see itself as the world’s most important entity, with the prime responsibility of preserving and protecting itself, even if that means covering up the horrendous crimes of Church officials. The Church must be willing to sacrifice its own life!
If there is any institution that should be open to risk and misunderstanding and to being persecuted for the sake of what is right, it is the Church! When we put self-preservation ahead of dying to self, we are not the people of God. When rules and traditions are given priority over the teachings of Jesus, when obedience and discipline are considered to be the greatest virtues a person can have, to the neglect of placing love first, we are not the Church.
Comparisons to America’s political realities are very easy to make. Both the people whose candidate does not win a presidential election and those decrying Francis’ election are basically saying the same thing: the only valid truth is my perception of truth. Anyone who does not completely adhere to everything I consider important is wrong. There is no possibility that there are truths other than what I perceive. Unless my candidate or my pope is elected, whoever is elected is an usurper —a fraud—is wrong. Even if he or she is the Risen Christ!