Allow me to be lowbrow for a moment. Because let’s be honest, I’m a child of American pop-culture, and no matter how much I reach for erudition, I grew up in the 80s.
So yes, I think of things in terms of Star Wars.
We’ve been having a lot of discussion lately over whether or not Francis is the real pope. As I said to you the other day, on a practical level, this is immaterial. Yes, it’d be better to know than not to know, but the fact of the matter should have little bearing on our daily lives as Catholics. We are still called to strive for virtue. We are still called to stay in a state of grace. We must still receive the sacraments and educate ourselves and our children in the things of God and evangelize and all the rest of it. None of that changes.
The biggest reason we struggle with the idea of Francis being the real pope is because we hate the idea. We look for outs. We want desperately to believe that it’s all just a bad dream that we can wake up from and things will go back to normal.
In reality, it’s a lot more like this:
As we all know, Luke’s rejection of Darth Vader didn’t mean a hill of beans. He was his father. It was part of the tragedy of the story, which is what made the redemptive moment in the Original Trilogy’s denouement so satisfying.
It is, to my mind, as unlikely that Francis will repent of the evils that he is doing to the Church and come over from the dark side as it was for Vader. And yet, he is alive, so there is still hope. It is to this end that I pray the following prayer daily:
Almighty and Everlasting God, have mercy on Thy servant Francis, our Supreme Pontiff, and direct him, according to Thy loving kindness, in the way of eternal salvation, that with Thy help he may ever desire that which is pleasing to Thee and accomplish it with all his strength. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Whether or not he corresponds to the graces of those praying for him (and what must it be like to have millions of people praying for you??) is up to him.
But the argument that he is not the pope is most likely nothing more than denial. Yes, I’ve flirted with the thought. But it never felt true, if that makes sense. Truth has a certain ring to it, and this doesn’t. It’s more like wishful thinking. People can find all kinds of technical defects in the conclave, in the Latin grammar of Benedict’s abdication, or can try to extrapolate from Bellarmine and Suarez that Francis has removed himself from office, etc. There are real errors and inconsistencies that have been raised. None of which have prompted any serious question on the part of a significant portion of the Church’s hierarchy over which claimant to the papal throne is authentic. In fact, there is only one claimant. Benedict has conceded the point time and again. He appears perfectly happy with his decision, and he praises Francis every chance he gets. Do these look like images of a man in captivity? A man unhappy with his decision, or his successor?
It’s like every time they see each other, all they want to do is hug it out. These men are not enemies. They are friends.
The Church has been riddled with antipopes over the years, and the 9th to 11th centuries in particular made an absolute mess of the papacy, what with all the corruption, collusion, evil, and fighting that went on over the papacy. But never was there a question over who was the real pope when there were not at least two people laying claim to being the real pope.
I understand that we all have had (and some are having) our Luke Skywalker moments, preferring to throw ourselves into the abyss rather than confront the reality of our spiritual patrimony. But there comes a time when the following advice from Bob Newhart becomes essential:
We need to focus on how we get through this, folks. We need to figure out how we can best teach our kids the Faith under these circumstances. We need to try to gather up as many of the people who are dazed and confused by what they see going on and keep them IN the Church, not running screaming from it.
If we trust Christ, if we trust in His promises to the Church, we needn’t tie ourselves in knots trying to figure out, “BUT HOW CAN THEY APPLY IN THIS INSTANCE WITH THIS GOING ON???”
Just…trust Him. He’s got this. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: we are being tested in no less severe a fashion than were the apostles when Our Lord was asleep in the boat during that storm. Think about it – these weren’t a bunch of gussied-up hipsters wearing skinny jeans and drinking Soy Mochaccino Lattes (no foam!) while Snapchatting about their skinny jeans. These were rugged men of a harsh time – sailors, most of them, who made their living on the seas. They knew the difference between a sprinkle and a tempest. If they were scared, that boat must have been in serious danger. They thought they were going to die because in ANY ordinary circumstances, they would have.
And there’s Jesus. Just, you know, catching some Zs.
So then they wake him up with all the passive aggression that they can muster: “Master, doth it not concern thee that we perish?” It’s a hilarious line if you think about it. It reads like, “Uh, Jesus? We’re just about to get killed here. NBD. If you’re done getting your beauty rest, you think maybe, uh, you know, you might want to do something? Or we could just get back to dying a horrible death. It’s fine. No worries. We’ll see you at the bottom.”
So Jesus gets up, and in my mind, he’s giving them a dirty look, but not saying anything. Just mad dogging them on the way to the prow. And then he rebukes the storm. He doesn’t calmly tell it to go back to sleep, or massage its self-esteem. He rebukes the weather for acting up. And then he turns around and gives the apostles (again, I’m assuming) the same look I give my boys when they start having an imaginary brawl with each other in the wine aisle of the grocery store, fists flying near bottles I can’t even afford to buy on Christmas.
And he lays into them: “Why are you fearful? have you not faith yet?” (Mark 4:37-40)
And you’d better believe that in the midst of this tempest we’re getting our butts handed to us by, He’s asking us the same exact thing.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit to you that we need to get our heads on right, and fast. Despite my very serious desire to be more of an optimist than my upbringing and DNA seem willing to allow, something is coming. We cannot — CANNOT — afford to get all caught up in the petty stuff. In the details that won’t change anything in our lives but certainly do make us angry and upset and in constant inner turmoil. God entrusted the Church to very specific people, and it’s His job (with them as His instruments) to sort out personnel issues. Nothing we can do. We are not outside consultants who get to come in and determine who gets laid off.
I’m a big fan of analogies (as you’ve likely guessed by now.) I’ve often referred to Francis as “Pope Smelling Salts,” because he’s waking people up from their unconsciousness. But it occurred to me this morning that he’s actually more of an emetic.
Emetics are deeply unpleasant. They cause you to vomit rather forcefully. The point, of course, is not to inflict suffering on you; rather, it is to force your body to expel the toxins that have been ingested.
The Mystical Body of Christ has been poisoned. Francis, in his attempt to deepen the crisis, is actually beginning to serve as its unwitting remedy. (So if he makes you want to throw up, take heart. It’s a good thing!) He is forcing all this festering nonsense to the surface, in much the same way Vatican II did. The modern era of the Church didn’t begin in the 1960s. That’s when it came to a head first. And soon — sooner than many of us may expect — it’s going to run itself out.
Either that, or God will excise it by force.
You see, we’ve reached a point in time where we can’t find any solution to the crisis. We’re all scratching our heads and wringing our hands and praying our rosaries and making our sacrifices and saying, “How Long, O Lord?” He wants us to ask that question. He wants us to see that we can’t solve it. We may even have to endure yet another conclave where someone like Francis gets elected (cough*Tagle*cough). We have to feel it in our bones that there is no way out except through Him.
And when it comes, however it comes, the solution will leave us no doubt about its provenance. It will be from heaven. And all this confusing and nitpicking and legalistic trying to find a loophole that somehow makes this situation less horrifyingly bad than it actually is (again, Luke Skywalker) will all seem silly.
When Christ endured His passion, he drank the cup of suffering to the dregs. He is asking us to share in that. He is asking us to give over all our worry and anger and concern to Him, to shelter ourselves within His wounds, and to trust.
I don’t want to waste any more time on theories we can’t prove. God will sort it out. Let’s move beyond this to what really matters. We have a lot worth fighting for.
Can you do that? Do you love Him? Do you trust Him enough to know that He has a plan, and that if you seek His will, you will be provided for?
For your sake, I really hope the answer is yes.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.