Four myths about Pope Francis in the United States

With His Holiness landing soon in the USA, you’ll have lots of opportunities to correct the mistakes we’re hearing about the pope, his Church, and the Kingdom to come

If you believe what you read in the papers, Pope Francis will be busy the next few days unraveling Capitalism and rebuking Republicans.

But here in the real world, the visit of Pope Francis to the United States of America will provide nuance, challenges for all, and lots of surprises. To help prepare for the big week, here are four common mistakes people are making and a few pointers for correcting them.

1. The Pope wants to smash Capitalism. Pope Francis has certainly seen and is distressed by the ecological and social damage caused by unbridled business interests (local and foreign) in his home of Argentina. He knows that many of his fellow priests, bishops, cardinals, and friends in the global South have seen much the same. But he’s also seen the damage wrought by corrupt governments—including leftist ones.

Like the Gospel he proclaims, Pope Francis is an equal-opportunity challenger.

Pope Francis’s blame for the destruction of so many places and people is not this or that economic model. Rather it is our fallen human condition. His hope is not in an alternate economic model. It's in Jesus Christ—who can fix anything. The Church wishes to baptize, not destroy, the market-based business world because it is a means to build up the common good. The people who run and work for businesses can, with God’s grace, focus as much on the welfare of humanity and the care of creation as for making a profit.

There’s lots to appreciate about the Church’s relation to the business sector. One place to start is this little-known text by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vocation of the Business Leader.

2. The Pope’s visit will be a boost for the Democrats. The narrative that Pope Francis has come to denounce the Republican Party is a common tale thanks to many in the mainstream media—most especially those who see this pontiff as a Vatican-based Progressive operative. But by the time Pope Francis flies back to Rome, you’ll be hearing from a good many stunned journalists and commentators wondering what went wrong with the narrative.

To be clear: Like the Gospel he proclaims, Pope Francis is an equal-opportunity challenger. Yes, many in the wealthy, often gluttonous United States will be challenged with his message of controlling our appetites. (I know I will.) But he’ll also be challenging those who encourage the fulfilling of unbridled sexual appetites, as well as the resulting demand for abortion that comes from such cultures and for views of marriage that stray from the ancient variety of that between a man and a woman.

When all is said and done, some Democrats (and others on the Left) may wish that this Bishop of Rome had never crossed the Atlantic.

This visit by Pope Francis to the United States will have less to do with politics and economics and more to do with grace

3. The Church is failing. (Or, as the New York Times puts it, the Church is “in upheaval.”) Well, this one has lots of truth to it. But then, there was no time when this was not the case. We in the Church freely admit this.

Simply read the Gospels (or the Old Testament, for that matter) and skim through some Church history. You’ll quickly learn that upheaval is a common reality for the Church in the world. This is why our faith is in God, who alone could keep the Catholic Church so relevant and alive, as the crowds this week will demonstrate.

4. What Pope Francis is saying has never been said by a pope. This one would be true if it weren’t so utterly false. Pope Francis’s words are well-founded on the social teachings of the Church, especially those of his immediate predecessor. If you’ve read Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate you’ll have read many of the same insights found in Laudato Si’—and those that you will hear in the coming days. This is not meant to detract from the message that the Holy Father will bring to these shores. It’s meant to justify all the more why we must listen.

To sum up in these busy hours, the soon-to-come images of many thousands upon thousands cheering wildly at the presence of the Successor of St. Peter—to say nothing of the images of American politicians straining to hear his words and the needy smiling with his embrace—are images that will speak to us not so much about our fascination with one man. Rather they will speak to the Church and the world responding to the works of the Spirit.

And that’s the good news: This visit by Pope Francis to the United States will have less to do with politics and economics and more to do with grace with human history—grace that softens hearts, encourages a deep care for creation and the whole human race, and urges us all to respond to the call of Christ, who makes all things, and all people, new.

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Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.