Pope Francis Encourages Breastfeeding in Sistine Chapel

This past Sunday, Pope Francis celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord by baptizing 33 babies in the Sistine Chapel, NBC News reports. During the mass, the Catholic leader encouraged the

Image via Shutterstock. Used with Permission

Image via Shutterstock. Used with Permission

infants’ mothers to breastfeed their babies. “You mothers give your children milk and even now, if they cry because they are hungry, breastfeed them, don’t worry,” Pope Francis declared in his homily.According to Reuters, the written sermon used the Italian phrase for “give them milk,” but during his remarks, the Pope changed it to “allattateli,” which directly translates to “breastfeed them.”  READ MORE

If the reports are correct, it is remarkable (and wonderful) to me that Pope Francis actually changed the text of his sermon from “give them milk” to “breastfeed them.”

For more information on ways you can have a healthy breastfeeding relationship with your little one, check out Then Comes Baby:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood and Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

“Marriage Isn’t Easy, But It’s Beautiful,” Says Pope Francis.

Regular listeners to More2Life Radio know that our regular marriage contributors, Frank and Julie LaBoda, serve on the Pontifical Council for the Family and are currently in Rome for a Council meeting.  In his address to the Council this past weekend, Pope Francis had some truly inspiring words for married couples.

The Catholic Church must help young people understand that marriage isn’t always easy, “but it is so beautiful,” Pope Francis said.

“There are problems in marriage: different points of view, jealousies, arguments, but tell young couples to never let the day end without making peace. The sacrament of matrimony is renewed in this act of peace,” the pope said Oct. 25 during a meeting with members of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

 “This path is not easy, but it is so beautiful,” the pope said. “It’s beautiful. Tell them that.”

For the Catholic Church, he said, a family isn’t simply a group of individuals, but it is a community where people learn to love one another, share with and make sacrifices for each other and “defend life, especially of those who are more fragile and weak.”

The family as a special community must “be recognized as such, especially today when so much emphasis is placed on the safeguarding of individual rights,” he said. “We must defend the rights of this community that is the family.”

Defending the family also means defending the basic fact that it is a community founded on the marriage of a man and a woman, he said.

“Spousal and familial love clearly reveal that the vocation of the human person is to love one other person forever and that the trials, sacrifices and crises in the life of the couple or the family are stages for growth in goodness, truth and beauty,” he said.

I have to say that this is exactly why Lisa and I wrote Just Married:  A Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First 5 Years of Marriage Our oldest kids are in college and we host a lot of their friends for dinners and other things and we’ve been blessed to have so many conversations with them about their concerns about relationships and marriage.  There is so much fear out there and so little confidence among young people that they have what it takes to form healthy marriages that can last a lifetime.  Lisa and I are so glad that Pope Francis has offered these words of encouragement for married couples. We hope Just Married will help get the word out about the beauty of marriage and what it takes to make love last.

Popcak in WaPo on the Pope, “Catholicism is a love story.”

I was interviewed, earlier today, by Michelle Boorstein, a religion writer for the Washington Post.  We chatted about the challenge many people were having with Pope Francis style and my own journey from confusion and mild frustration to greater understanding and appreciation for what he is trying to do and say.  I appreciated her thoughtful and considerate approach and I hope we have other chances to speak in the future.

My comments centered on two themes (and since I’m not sure how much will make it in to the article I figured I’d blog it here); (1) The need to understand the Hierarchy of Truths and, (2) the need to appreciate the two conversations that are currently ongoing in the Church.

Hierarchy of Truths

When Francis speaks of the importance of having conversations about abortion, contraception, and gay marriage “in a context,”  I believe he is making reference to the hierarchy of truths.    In the Church, as in math and the sciences, there are certain things you need to be able to understand before you can effectively learn other things.  For instance, algebra makes no sense before you can do basic math (of course, for math-impaired arts and letters types like me, basic math didn’t help my algebra much).  Similarly, it is hard to expect someone to appreciate the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death until someone can accept the personal  significance of the Jesus’ love for humankind (and for them, personally).

That’s not to say that the truth regarding life issues is less important.  It is to say that the ability to see those truths tends to depend upon the acceptance of other, more basic, truths (e.g., the love and Lordship of Jesus Christ).  Pope Francis is not so much saying that we shouldn’t be talking about the important moral issues of the day as he is saying that we have to be careful not to let Catholicism be reduced to a group of ethical rules that must be obeyed.  At it’s heart, and I shared this with Ms. Boorstein, Catholicism is a love story not a rule book.   Through the Eucharist, especially, God seeks to be united with his beloved in a profound and personal way.

We cannot let the fact that our Catholic faith is the love story between the Bridegroom and His bride be obscured by the truth of–for instance–canon laws on marriage.  Both are important, but one is more primary.

As for questions about Pope Francis’ style, Let’s extend the marriage analogy further. Which is a more compelling message?  “Marriage means saying ‘no’ to the million other people you could be sleeping with instead”  or “Marriage means you have found the one person whom God has chosen to be your helpmate; the person who will devote his or her life to you, help you become everything God created you to be, and get you ready to spend Eternity with Him”?  Again, both messages are true, and if there is some confusion about the nature of marital fidelity the former is an important conversation to have.  But the latter message  is more compelling insofar as it is a more accurate portrayal of what Catholics actually believe about marriage.

Pope Francis is reminding the world of the love story that stands at the heart of our Catholic faith.

The Two Conversations

The second point I hope I was able to make in my interview had to do with the two conversations the Church has been, and still is, having.

In the years after Vatican II, there was a great deal of confusion regarding what it meant to respond to God’s call to love in the 20th century.  Pope Paul VI, JPII, and B16 focused the conversation on “What does our ‘yes’ to God’s question, ‘will you let me love you?’ look like today?”   They established that our response has to do with the way we express our love for others, the way we work to promote the dignity of every person from birth to natural death, and the right of every person to have everything necessary to live a full and godly life.    The parameters of that conversation have been established, perhaps not as securely as some of us might like, but nevertheless,  the parameters are set.

In light of those parameters having been established by his predecessors, Pope Francis seems (to me) to be saying that there is another message that needs to be proclaimed; specifically, that “Jesus Christ is Lord and he loves you.”  Both conversations are important, but it does little good to talk about the proper response to God’s love with people who haven’t yet experienced his love for themselves.  Pope Francis, I think, is asking us to focus on this other, more primary conversation. I do not believe he is saying that the moral conversation is no longer relevant, but rather that we need to keep these two conversations going in our heads–and in the world–at the same time.  We must proclaim that “Jesus Christ is Lord and He loves you”  at the same time we teach what it means to say, “yes” to that invitation to respond to his love.    If Pope Francis appears to be favoring one conversation over the other–and I’m not convinced he is–then he is only doing so because the world has become so fixated on the moral conversation it has lost the thread of the love story and he intends to remind people of that greatest story every told.

I hope I was able to communicate that effectively in the interview, and I hope my observations might bring some clarity to the frustration, confusion, and (in some cases) misplaced proclamations of the death of orthodoxy, that so many are speaking about in the pew.

Because, Y’Know, Pope Francis is “Soft” on Abortion…

My epiphany of this past weekend did not blind me to the challenges Pope Francis’ papacy presents.  Specifically, because his style is profoundly welcoming and he is so committed to bringing home the prodigal, his more pastoral style can be easily twisted by people who’s agenda runs contrary to the Church.

Instead of complaining about this, we need to rise to the challenge.  To help us all do that, I’ll be regularly posting quotes from Pope Francis on the very topics he’s allegedly “soft” on; abortion, contraception, gay marriage and the like.  I recommend we all do our best to take 5 minutes to memorize these quotes so that when people confront us–at the water cooler or wherever–with the tired story that “Pope Francis says Catholics shouldn’t make a big deal about X” we’ll be ready.   So, here’s my first installment in my, “Here’s what Pope Francis ACTUALLY said”  series.

“Every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord, who even before his birth, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world. And every old person, even if infirm and at the end of his days, carries with him the face of Christ. They must not be thrown away!” – Pope Francis

Papa Francis, The Prodigal, and “the Good Son.”

How do you feel about Pope Francis’ style?

I’ve been praying a lot about my reactions to Pope Francis as well the reactions I have read from my fellow Catholic culture warriors.    I have friends–sometimes of the more liberal persuasion (but not all)–who think Pope Francis is an incredible breath of fresh air.  I have other friends–usually more conservative–who can’t believe how much this guy is, in their minds, stinking up the joint.

Ambivalence Observed

As for me, well, I’ve been ambivalent–and honestly, I’ve been troubled and a little ashamed–of my reactions.  In the first place, I have always thought of myself as “the Pope’s man.”  I was 11 when Pope John Paul II was elected to the Throne of Peter and 38 when he died.  I loved him.   I have largely formed my life according to his teachings.    I grew up challenging myself to see marriage and family life through the lens of his Theology of the Body and to do my best to both live out and promote the Church’s vision of life and love.    The same went for Benedict, who was at least a continuation of JPII’s thinking if not his style.  I was fascinated by their minds, intrigued by what I could learn at their feet, and eager to put into practice everything I learned from them, because even though living out their words didn’t necessarily win me any popularity contests by the world’s standards, their counsel taught me how to live a truly blessed life filled with love and faith and joy.  Because of all this, I have, as long as I can remember, had a strong appreciation for the office of the pope.


Which is why my reactions to Pope Francis have bothered me so much.  On the one hand, I find much to admire.  His simplicity.  His heart.  His genuine love for people.  His obvious love for Christ.  On the other hand, I have been genuinely put off–sometimes even angered–by a lot of things he has said that, frankly, have made my job harder.

Remember, most of what I do all day in counseling and on the radio is try to help people live out the Catholic vision of love, sex, and marriage.   In the last several weeks alone, I have had people challenge me in ways I haven’t encountered before.  It used to be that when I made some statement about the Church’s positions on marriage, love and sex, people would accept it.  They wouldn’t always like it, but they knew it was true.   They knew it was true, because even if they didn’t exactly get it, they knew what I was saying at least sounded like what they heard Pope JPII or Pope Benedict say.    But now, all of a sudden, I’m getting a kind-of push back I haven’t experienced before.  “Well, the POPE, said…”  Or,  “That’s not what Pope FRANCIS said the other day….”  As if I haven’t read the same interviews.   Then, when I try to explain what the Pope actually said, for the first time, people are accusing me not of trying to faithfully represent Church teaching, but of engaging in “conservative spin.”    It’s particularly frustrating for me, because the contexts for these discussions are often not some bar or church basement where I’m having a friendly argument with someone to pass the time, but counseling sessions where marriages and families and lives are at stake.    For heaven’s sake, I recently had a client who was struggling with serious faith issues and depression quit counseling with me a few weeks ago because, in his words, “I’m much more of a Pope Francis/Nancy Pelosi Catholic and you’re an old-school, Pope John Paul II Catholic.”

Ouch.  How did that sting me?  Let me count the ways….

So, yes.  I’ve been…disturbed by a lot of what Pope Francis has been saying–or, perhaps more accurately, by how people have too easily been twisting what he has been saying.  At the same time, I believe in the papacy.  I believe the Holy Spirit has a great deal to do with who sits in the Chair of Peter.  I believe that God knows what he is doing in the Church and even if the papal election is a very human process, I believe that God wants to use whomever is elected to teach us–to teach me–something important about being Catholic at this time in history.  And so, unlike a lot of other people who have been openly angry about Pope Francis, I have tried to stay quiet, to talk through my feelings with a few mature Christians I trust, and, most importantly, to pray.  A lot.

The Return of the Prodigal

The past weekend, God smacked me upside the head with an insight that has been convicting me hard ever since.  As I was praying, I was suddenly reminded–or, really, more like slapped in the face with the memory of–the Prodigal Son.  Well, not the prodigal son, exactly. That would have been OK.  I’m fine being the Prodigal Son.  But no.  That wasn’t who God was reminding me of.  Suddenly, it was like God took my face in his hands and pointed me at a mirror, and I saw…the good son.  The good kid who stayed behind, did everything his father told him to do, was probably a little glad to see his annoying, pain-in-the-ass brother leave in the first place,  and was more than a little upset to see him come back.  You know, the one with the stick up his rear-end whom everyone acknowledges but no one wants to be like.

God showed me that I was being the “good son.”  And I heard a voice say, “My lost children are coming home.  And you are angry.”

And I remembered the words of the story…

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

And I started to cry.


Here, in Francis, my Papa was running out into the street to meet my brothers and sisters who were lost but now found.   He was killing the fatted calf and putting the finest robes on them.  He was giving them his ring.   And here I was, stuck doing the same damn thing I’ve always been doing and getting even less thanks for it.   People who left the Church, who hated the Church (and yes, hated and sometimes abused me for loving it), who wouldn’t give the Church a second glance were suddenly realizing that God loved them, that the Church welcomed them, and all I could do was feel bitter about it.  Because it was a fricking inconvenience to me.   I didn’t feel bitter because I don’t love them.   I do.  It wasn’t that I don’t want them to know how much they are loved and welcome.  I do.  But I was bitter because, to be perfectly honest, having to love them the way they are today makes my life harder than I would like it to be.   It isn’t enough for me to  just make statements and then sit in my rightness and be right.   All of a sudden, I have to really listen, to deal with the mess of their lives and put up with–no, actually respect— their “who do you think YOU are?” attitudes.    Yes, I loved them,  truly, but not enough.  Pope Francis was showing me that for all my brave words and self-congratulatory thoughts about my commitment to love my neighbor, I loved my comfort zone a little more than I loved my brother and sister who were coming home after a long time of suffering and loneliness.

And I felt ashamed.

Love and Truth

None of this is to say that the Church’s teachings on love, sex and marriage aren’t true.  And I think Pope Francis is showing us this too.   Likewise, none of this is to say that I have to pretend that the Church’s vision of life shouldn’t be upheld, taught, and proclaimed boldly.  But it is to say that preaching to an empty house, or limiting myself to too easy conversations with only the brothers and sisters who agree with me is useless.  I can still have those discussions I love so much, fight for those causes that matter so much, but first I have to get past the pride and joy I get from “being right.”  From being “the right kind of Catholic.”  From being “the good son.”  I have to show my brothers and sisters that I love them–first and always.  That I want them sitting next to me even though we don’t see eye-to-eye.   I have to be willing to learn from them as much as teach.  To acknowledge that they have things to offer me and that I am glad to be related to them even though we make each other uncomfortable sometimes.   If I can do that, if I can show them the love that Jesus has truly placed in my heart,  then I can have all the family arguments I want–and heck, maybe even win a few of them.  But if they don’t feel the love of Jesus radiating out of me, what’s the use in any of it?  Without love, I am no prophet.  I am just a clanging gong.  A noisy cymbal.

I think I’m starting to get it.  I think God, through Pope Francis, is reminding me that being right is fine, but I need to be even more committed to love because it is love that wins men’s hearts.  It goes back to what Pope Benedict said in Caritas in Veritatem, that taken together, love and truth prevent love from being reduced either to mere sentimentality or fideism.  God is reminding me that I still  have a way to go before I have mastered that art.

“Everything I Have is Yours…”

I guess I’m still processing all this, but in the last few days, I find myself a lot less disquieted by Pope Francis words and even the ways people are trying to twist them.  Let Papa bring my brothers and sisters home.  I love them and I will welcome them.  And I will be happy to continue the family arguments with them, because now that they are coming back home, I can.

Finally, to all my  brothers and sisters who are also my fellow “good sons and daughters” who feel as if their legs have been cut out from underneath them as the very people Pope Francis is running to meet accept his love but twist his words, perhaps we can all take a little comfort along with God’s conviction as we meditate on the Father’s words to the good son at the end of the story.

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”

And more importantly,  perhaps we “good sons and daughters” in the family can yet find a place in our hearts for our  returning brothers and sisters and even happily join the party our Papa is throwing for them.

Calling All Franco-phobes, “Be not afraid!”

A lot of people–especially conservatives and traditionalists–are freaking out about Pope Francis comments, especially his most recent interview for America magazine.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not unsympathetic.  Even though Pope Francis is not overturning any doctrines or giving out “Get Into Heaven Free” passes to the lowest bidders, he does have a VERY different style that requires some getting used to after the more charismatically catechetical (chasmachetical?) approach of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.  I’ll admit that I, myself have found it as jarring as it is liberating.   That said, I think people’s fears are misplaced.  Marcel Lejeune at Aggie Catholic agrees and I encourage anyone who is tempted to begin dressing in sackcloth and ashes either because of what Pope Francis says, or what the press says he says, to read Marcel’s essay titled, “7 Reasons Pope Francis Worries Some Catholics and Why They Shouldn’t Worry.”    It’s excellent.

And of course, readers should always be sure to read the Pope’s interview for themselves. He is nothing if not accessible!

Dr. Popcak’s prescription for Franco-Phobes?  Take one deep, cleansing breath and call Jesus in the morning (and at noon, and at night).

I’ve Got the Cure for Your PTFWS* (*post-traumatic foot-washing syndrome)

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread and all, but since I am committed to the healing arts and it pains me to think that any of you are among those rending their garments over Pope Francis’ washing of women’s feet this past Holy Thursday, worried that this is just the first sign of the new Pope’s  hidden proto-feminist agenda and the imminent ordination of women bishops and subsequent ending of the world (curse you, Mayans!–the Pope is from South America, after all), I thought I would pass along an historical anecdote as a way of demonstrating that this really is nothing about which to get your wimple in a knot.  In fact, as far as I can tell, the matter was resolved almost 30 years ago by a Vatican decree–as if the Pope needed a decree to do something in the first place.    Now, before I share this,  I’ll  tell you up front that I will round file with extreme prejudice any obnoxious, anti-clerical, more-canonical-than-thou, liturgi-terroristic comments.  Likewise, I’m not spending my Easter break arguing with anyone–especially over this.  Thoughtful, substantive, respectful comments, as always, are welcome.  With that, read on…

Once upon a time, back in 1985, I was in the seminary for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The newly installed, then, Bishop Bevilacqua (later, the now-infamous  and recently deceased, Philly Cardinal) was both a canon and civil lawyer.  He was a stickler for details and not exactly a people-person, bless his heart.  Anyhoo, he rankled the diocesan women by refusing to wash their feet on Holy Thursday and ordering all the priests of the diocese to do the same. HUGE outcry. You’ve never seen so much anguish. Protests outside St Paul’s Cathedral for weeks. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  We seminarians were actually booed walking into the Cathedral at one point.  It was like Bishop Herod was killing the city’s children. In his defense, the bishop pointed out that the latin translation of the rules regarding the Holy Thursday liturgy said that the feet of 12 “viri” (men) should be washed–and anyway, the entire rite is optional so what was all the fuss about? Long story short, after even more histrionics, clarification was requested of the Vatican which later that year said that it was fine to wash women’s feet. Specifically, the Vatican said that,  in this case, it was fine to translate “viri” in the more general sense  of “men” meaning “persons”  (as in, “Jesus died for all men”–i.e., not just dudes, chicks too).    Bevilacqua lifted his ban the following year. The feet of the women of “the Burgh” didn’t have to stink anymore (well, not as much at least) the Bishop made a healthy breakfast of the egg on his face.  People went on to being petty about other things.

You may make of this what you will.  I only share it because part of my job as a therapist is to check people’s reality.  Consider your liturgical reality checked.  Nothing to see here folks.  Old news.  Now, go back to rejoicing in the fact that the Lord is risen, he is risen indeed!  Alleluia, Alleluia!

Pope Francis, “Keep watch over your emotions!”

In his homily for his installation, Pope Francis reflected on the “vocation of protector”  so ably modelled by St. Joseph, who’s feast we celebrate today.  In his comments, Pope Francis made some surprising and important comments on the importance of developing emotional control and how our ability to be good stewards of our emotions directly affects our ability to be the protectors of one another God calls us to be.

But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down!   (Read more)

Pope Francis makes a powerful point about the obligation for Christians to master their emotions.  But what does that mean?  As we discussed on the show today, “emotional control” doesn’t mean stuffing your feelings, denying your feelings, or refusing to recognize your feelings.  It means being aware of your feelings and being able to choose to make the healthiest response in the presence of those feelings. 

On More2Life Radio today–which was all about heeding Pope Francis’ call to emotional control–Lisa used a great analogy.  She said that emotions are like a grade school fire alarm and that learning emotional control is like a fire drill.  In the presence of that fire alarm, some kids want to naturally run around like chickens with their heads cut off (the “effusers” in our metaphor).  Other kids just sit there and stare at the wall (i.e., the emotional “stuffers”).  But both groups of kids need to learn to line up behind the teacher promptly, and proceed calmly to the nearest exit.  That’s really true.    Whether our initial emotional reaction is to effuse or stuff, the path to emotional control is learning to recognize your emotions and still be able to choose the healthiest response to the circumstance in the presence of your emotions.  When the emotional fire alarm rings, we need to line up behind our master, Jesus Christ, and follow him wherever he leads.

—When you need faithful, Catholic marriage, family, or personal counseling, the Pastoral Solutions Institute Tele-Counseling Practice can help.  Visit our website or call 740-266-6461 to make an appointment to speak with a professional Catholic counselor.

(“Phew! The Coast is Clear!”) Er, I mean, “Yeah! Pope Francis!”

Amy Welborn is spot on in identifying what she calls the weird sense of “relief” expressed by many on the election of Pope Francis.    To be honest, I’ve been getting the impression that in certain quarters, people aren’t so much rejoicing that Pope Francis was elected as much as they are rejoicing at what they imagine to be the end of the papal era of JPII and BXVI with their shared focus on personal responsibility, the authentic nature of love, and the importance of the Church’s moral teaching.  Maybe I’m just looking for trouble, but it seems to me that some folks are genuinely relieved that we’re “finally” going to get off that old “love and responsibility” grind and get back to doing what the Church is “supposed” to be about–tending to the poor and downtrodden–as if we’ve been ignoring this work for the last 33-odd years under JPII and Benedict.  This, of course, is utter nonsense.

My fear is that a lot of what, superficially,  looks like joy at Pope Francis’ humility and message of compassion for the least is really a potentially serious case of what I like to call, “White, Middle-Class Suburban Parish Syndrome”  (WMCSPSP)>  WMCSPS is the condition that affects Catholics who believe, “WE’RE just fine the way we are, thank you very much.  LOOK at US.  After all, WE’RE the UPSTANDING people.  WE are at mass EVERY SUNDAY.   WE DONATE MONEY to the poor.  WE READ at Mass.  WE VOLUNTEER once a year at the soup kitchen.    WE don’t need CONVERSION.   OUR job is to make THOSE PEOPLE (i.e., the poor, the less fortunate, etc.) look more like US.”

WMCSPS is a very common spiritual disease and without proper treatment–ongoing, internal conversion–the condition is, sadly, terminal.

I’ve always felt that Pope JPII and Pope Benedict were especially good at reminding everyone that poverty is not just a economic condition that applies to certain people who struggle to have even their most basic needs met.  There is also a spiritual poverty that exists and is, in some cases, even more dangerous.  Spiritual poverty  is the tendency to ignore the call to ongoing personal conversation and conforming one’s life to the Gospel regardless of one’s circumstances.

Pope JPII and Benedict were terrific at forcing all people–rich and poor alike–to confront their personal selfishness and turn to God.  They were true social justice Catholics because they understood that social justice isn’t an economic project or a day of volunteering at the soup kitchen,  it is a means of converting the hearts of all men by empowering us to conquer both selfishness and the use of others wherever these negative traits are found–whether in our bedrooms, our homes, our communities, our institutions, our governments, or our world.

I, frankly, believe that Pope Francis has a similar gift. I think he could challenge all of us even more if we let him. But I am concerned that it will be very tempting to feel that as long as we are attending to the needs of “those people” over there, that we will finally all get a pass on all the more personal sins that go on inside of us right here.  Pope Francis’ personal example of humility and service is, it seems to me, rooted in a very deep, authentic, ongoing process of personal conversion.  We would do well to follow not just his external external example of caring for the poor, but his internal example of addressing our own sickness and poverty–especially when it comes to our struggle with the very personal sins of contraception, abortion, divorce, and the like, that cause us to objectify the people we encounter.  The corporal and spiritual works of mercy, to be authentic, must be the fruit of our efforts to love God more and live his truth more authentically in our hearts and with the people who are our closest neighbors–our spouse and children.  Focusing on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy without converting our own hearts is the equivalent of making ourselves into those “whited sepulchres” Jesus was, ahem, so fond of.

Granted, keeping up the hard work of personal conversion in our hearts and home isn’t as romantic as just being able to think of Pope Francis as a light that makes us all look better in his glow, but it is how we stop merely looking at Christ and start looking like Christ.

Just sayin’


Pope Francis: The Psychology of a Name

Studies on the significance of names tell us that the name we are called by can has a powerful impact both on the way we see ourselves and the way others see us.  One of the reasons the Church encourages Catholic parents to choose a saint’s name for their children is that, as Christians, our identities ought to be completely devoted to the pursuit of heaven–the ultimate prize–from the first day of our birth.

There  is power in a name.  It announces us, and in many cases, it may come to define us.

The ever-entertaining and insightful, Rocco Palmo offers this brilliant off-the-cuff analysis of the significance of our new Holy Father’s name.

By choosing the name of the founder of his community’s traditional rivals (ed. note:  The Franciscans), the 266th Roman pontiff – the first from the American continent, home to more than half of the 1.2 billion-member church – has signaled three things: his desire to be a force of unity in a polarized fold, a heart for the poor, and his intent to “repair God’s house, which has fallen into ruin”… that is, to rebuild the church.