As the Holy Father’s plane touched down upon American soil today, I was reminded once again of the power of the papacy. It is the Successor to Peter, the Vicar of Christ himself, who has come to our country. What an incredible moment this is for our country, and an incredible opportunity for the Catholic Church in America.
Pope Francis is the first pope to visit the United States of America since the Supreme Court discovered within the Fourteenth Amendment the right to same-sex marriage. He is also visiting a country where abortion rights supporters are taking to Twitter at this very moment to celebrate their decision to kill their own child, tweeting by the thousands #ShoutYourAbortion. Ours is a nation in open defiance of God, celebrating sin under the (false) banner of freedom.
There is, however, a challenge presented with this visit as well. The message of the Francis papacy has been confusing at times, often being co-opted by both the secular left and Catholic left. While the vast majority of American Catholics love Pope Francis and approve of his pontificate to date, often some of the most vocal enthusiasm is found among dissident groups.
From the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) to the gay rights advocacy group New Ways Ministry, those who often displayed lukewarmness (or even outright hostility) toward Pope Benedict are highly visible in their praise for Francis. The same can be said regarding progressive publications such as America Magazine, the National Catholic Reporter, Crux, and Commonweal. Some of the faithful argue that these groups and news sites are misreading the Holy Father; a sort of mass delusion.
What we do know is this: Catholics and non-Catholics alike who anticipate the Church altering her stance on divorce, gay marriage, or contraception believe they see the possibility for such change under Pope Francis. Those who know better correctly argue that doctrine cannot change and that the truth is immutable.
There is also another saying, however, one that we may want to keep in mind here: personnel is policy. For every quote or misquote explained away, we still have players in this drama who by all appearances should not even be on stage: Cardinals Kasper, Daneels, Marx, and Bishop Bonny to name just a few. Prelates who have openly expressed views contradictory to Church teaching on marriage and the family are delegates to the Synod on the Family next month. Men who you would not trust to teach an RCIA class on marriage in your own parish have been asked, either by their conferences or the Holy Father himself, to come to Rome for the Synod.
But this brings us back to the moment, to this momentous visit. The messenger has changed. In some ways the message has changed too, at least in emphasis and delivery. We know that the enthusiasm demonstrated by many progressive groups isn’t simply because they perceive that the message is new; rather, they believe that the very mission itself has changed.
Let us all be clear about one thing: the mission never changes.
The Catholic Church has been tasked by Our Lord with proclaiming the Good News and carrying out the Great Commission. The salvation of souls is the mission. For those looking for mercy without repentance, for an affirmation of immorality and the validation of vice, they search in vain. While Pope Francis may be beloved by the faithful, the Church will always be hated by the world. As Venerable Fulton Sheen once said:
“If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hates.”
Pray this week. Sincerely pray. Pray not for our will to be done, not even for the Holy Father’s will to be done. Pray that Our Lord’s will be done. Ask for grace and mercy. For miracles. If you love Pope Francis and have from the beginning, pray for him. If you have struggled with this papacy at times, pray for him. Our faith is as much an act of the will as it is an act of charity. Lastly, pray that the Church’s mission to save souls by bringing all men to Christ is faithfully served by our Holy Father during this visit.
Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at liturgyguy.com. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.