Point of Order: Continuity, Not Rupture

I am definitely on my Papamoon with Pope Francis -- everything he does fascinates and delights me. A friend of mine who adores Pope Benedict as much as I said the other day that she felt like an unfaithful girlfriend because she was weeping when BXVI said good-bye and from the moment Francis was elected she felt like: Who's Benedict? and couldn't even recall his face.

I have definitely NOT forgotten Benedict, but I know just what she means, since I'm over the moon for Francis. I recall when John Paul II passed away fearing that I wouldn't be able to love another pope as I'd adored him -- but then I loved Benedict from the moment he walked out on the Loggia. I think this is a grace given to Catholics and a sign that the Papacy is what the Church says it is. We can't help but love the Pope!

That preliminary is by way of saying that what I'm about to write shouldn't be read as an effort to diminish Francis or as some kind of wistful wish for the return of BXVI. I feel nothing but delight in Francis -- and as I can't imagine anyone more in continuity of thought with Benedict XVI, I'm sure Benedict is resting easy.

But before I explode I have to have a virtual smackdown of people who speak about Pope Francis' surprising breeches of protocol in the first few days of his papacy -- or his "unusual" sneaking out of the Vatican-- as if HE has the common touch as opposed to that cold old predecessor.

Nonsense! How soon we forget that in his first days Pope Benedict did exactly the same thing -- snuck home to his apartment, walked rather than taking the popemobile, greeted people in the street to the delight of ordinary folk and consternation of Vatican security. From a news report April 20, 2005:

The newly elected Pope, clothed completely in the distinctive white vestments of the papacy, caught onlookers by surprise when he chose to travel on foot, walking the few hundred yards to the apartment in the Citta Leonina where he had lived for years. When the news spread that the Pontiff was walking through the city, hundreds of people quickly gathered, and he spent some time in front of the apartment building, greeting the people and blessing young children. Italian police and Vatican security officials did their best to control the crowd, preserving some breathing room for the Pontiff.
After a short stay in his old apartment, the Pontiff reappeared, entering a black car that was waiting for him at the entrance of the building. He paused again to wave to the crowd, turning slowly from one direction to another so that he could greet as many as possible. The crowd burst into cheers of “Long live the Pope!” and the chant that has already become familiar: “Benedetto!” Pope Benedict later commented that he was “very moved” as he resumed direct contact with the faithful. 

B16 hadn't been a bishop in a city for long, so we didn't have photos of him with his people to admire -- but don't we remember all the amazing stories of his humility: the tourists who tried to take his picture, and he tried to take theirs, not dreaming it was HIS picture they wanted; the couple who met him in St. Peter's square and got him to celebrate their nuptial mass; loads of stories like that. And he always made time for the handicapped and children and the elderly too.

Don't get me started on the people who are saying things like, "Oo, the new pope is speaking of hope and mercy" as if those were shockers. Hello? Were you not listening the past 8 years? Or the 25 years before that? Bergoglio's mind and emphasis are so much of a piece with Benedict's I find myself marveling at folks who think they see a wedge that reflects anything more than personal style and distinction in experience (the academic and teacher v. the bishop of Buenos Aires). 

I find I always disagree with the Catholic zeitgeist's take on things. John Paul was considered open and Benedict reserved -- and in terms of temperament that's undeniable, but in terms of what they actually revealed about themselves and their inner lives, the opposite is the case. Benedict was far more open about his inner thoughts than JP II had been. Similarly, though Francis' personality is more gregarious than Benedict's, his preaching is much harder -- or at least it was when he was in Buenos Aires. He talks frequently about the devil which Benedict never did. And he once accused the media of coprophagia in their insatiable quest for only bitter and cynical news. Won't find a thing approaching that in Benedict anywhere!

So bollux on everyone who makes dumb comparisons! Stick with falling in love with Francis as the Papamoon period is intended. As with Vatican II, so with these papacies: we preach a hermeneutic of continuity, not one of rupture.