There is an old 60’s dirty, filthy, hippy, song by Dr. Hook that opines about what it meant to be “on the cover of the Rolling Stone.” As a veteran dirty, filthy, hippy wannabe in my past, a long-ago, but once long time subscriber to the Rolling Stone, and no stranger to the world of music, I immediately thought of those lyrics when I heard the news about Pope Francis being… well, on the cover of the Rolling Stone!
Yes, there he is folks, with his familiar warm smile and kind gaze, Pope Francis, is actually on the magazine cover right now.
As the aforementioned song says, “But the thrill we’ve never known Is the thrill that’ll getcha, when you get your picture, on the cover of the Rollin’ Stone.”
Is Pope Francis as thrilled as Dr. Hook predicted? Doubtful is my vote; does he even know that he is on the cover? Does he care? And look at the words on the cover, which are straight out of the songbook of another (former) dirty, filthy, hippy, Bob Dylan. “The times they are a-changing.”
To which I say – yes. And – no.
Back to the Rollling Stone for a moment. From what I have read, small excerpts, not the entire piece, it looks like a pretty scathing assessment of Pope Benedict XVI. Downright cruel. Some may shriek in horror at this and others may cackle with delight. Quiet down, both sides. It is uncharitable and unkind in the worst way. Perhaps it is out of context until I read the entire thing, but I doubt it.
As to the much beloved Pope Francis, whose visage presents itself, from screens large and small, and from so many magazine covers that we can’t keep up, what times are a-changing for him? And for the Roman Catholic Church?
Not one piece of doctrine has changed. Nor do I think it will. Maybe – perhaps, we might see some change around divorced and remarried Catholics. Maybe. Pope Francis continues to hold the line on matters like women’s ordination, almost to the point of frustration, if you ask me. (And that is not because I am advocating for women’s ordination, by the way, but I would like to see some actual conversation and discernment on this topic. That’s another post.) As to anyone who thinks the he will change anything around marriage and orientation, I would say, think again.
So less than a year into his papacy, why all the magazine covers and every other sort of oohing and ahhing as if he were the star of a reality show? Well, he IS the star of a reality show, called life!
Look at him. He has not changed one element of doctrine or dogma, but here is what he is… Like the best kind of leader, he is highly accessible. He keeps things simple. In the Roman Catholic Church, and at the Vatican, no less, this is nothing short of a miracle. Pope Francis picks up the phone and calls people, writes them letters. He has shed the finery, he has no interest in being “elevated” above others, hugs people and reaches out to them. The smile of this Holy Father is as bright and persistent as the noonday sun in an equatorial land. Papa Francesco “seems” different.
So? Well, here is my own personal assessment of Pope Francis “a-changing” things” in a couple of ways.
One. Theologians and canon lawyers, go ahead and punch holes in this one, but hear me out. It is my own point of view, not a thesis. First and foremost I do not think that he “makes people feel guilty.” Stop. I spent 20 years in therapy and I know that we can’t blame others for “making us feel guilty.” But we do, especially seemingly harsh church people!
I imagine a group of so-called sinners in first century Palestine standing before the itinerant carpenter-preacher called Yeshua. What Francis does is similar to this… he does not make people feel guilty or unworthy, he opens the merciful door to God for them, and invites them in without hesitation.
Two. He does not seem to do much chastising of people, which may seem like a repeat of number one. Let me elaborate… He is not chastising people and telling them what they need to do to gain entry. He is not criticism free however! He criticizes situations and constructs that trap people in poverty and destroy them through violence, despair, and war.
You see, if he is critical of anyone or anything it would seem to be large power structures. You know, like the Roman Curia. Or multinational corporations. Or governments with draconian policies.
Prior popes, especially the most recent two, were often highly critical of the corporations and governments over everything from the basic dignity of the worker, the evils of poverty, regarding war, and about the death penalty and more. But not in quite the same way, because the Curia and the Church itself was not treated with the same message its seems. (That is indeed a broad statement, but that again is a different post.)
So there he is, Pope Francis, asking us all to do the same thing.
Change. Change our minds. Change our hearts. All of us. Not just “us” out there, but “them” too. That’s inviting and refreshing.
That’s what Jesus asked of us, too. He asks us still. And that this is made more clear is perhaps what is the thing that is most a-changing of all.
Can we do it?