At some point it became fashionable to portray Saint Francis of Assisi with birds all over him. Yes, he did preach to birds, as his disciple, Saint Anthony, preached to fish. I have seen many ancient paintings of Il Poverello, but even those showing the birds portray him preaching to them, not standing there like a tonsured aviary in a robe. That latter is a late-twentieth-century innovation. Readers probably know by now that it is Saint Francis of Assisi after whom Pope Francis has taken his name.
A twenty-first-century trend is that of “tweeting” on the microblogging site, Twitter, which allows users to say whatever they want, as long as they do not exceed 140 characters in a posting, called a “tweet.” Strange as it may seem, the restrictions of Twitter can allow the user to become artful, much as the forms and strictures of poetry do. Instead of babbling on and on, the Twitter user is forced into an economy of words, and might even become proverbial in his manner of speaking. Our own Brother Francis (once called “The Aphorist”) could write like that, as he did in The Challenge of Faith. Not that I think Brother would be on Twitter were he still with us.
With an eye to these two modern customs — birding up Saint Francis and “tweeting” on the Internet — I am going to put down in this letter twelve thoughts about the new Holy Father, each “thought” not taking up more than 140 characters.
- That any pope will be a good one is not an object of Christian hope, but that we will each have the means of salvation — in the Church — is.
- Many silly things were said about Pope Francis within a week of his election. This resulted in pointless and fruitless polemics.
- The new Holy Father does, of course, have a history. We all do. Let us wait to see how he will govern before assessing his pontificate.
- “No man can change the pope or find a substitute for him. We can be free from his authority only at the price of our souls.” —Br. Francis
- Let us be neither Pollyanna nor Chicken Little. In every case, Pollyanna says all is well, while Chicken Little says the sky is falling.
- His papacy will likely have unique strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The man is unique; so are his charisms and his burden.
- “Poor Holy Father, we must pray very much for him.” —Bl. Jacinta of Fatima
- Pope Francis is Marian. He brought the devotion of “Mary, Untier of Knots” to Argentina from Germany, where he earned his doctorate.
- Wide-eyed liberals do not speak much of the Devil. Pope Francis spoke several times of the Adversary just days into his pontificate.
- Faithful Catholics suffer with the Church, for the Church, and — when her hierarchy become abusive — from the Church. Adore the Holy Cross!
- “It is the most evident will of God that the whole world worship Him in the true religion under the leadership of the pope.” —Br. Francis
- Allowing myself one prognostication: As of now, the world and the media love him. They will hate him soon enough.
There it is. I chose to limit myself to twelve “tweets” in honor of the Apostles, the Sons of Jacob, the Fruits of the Holy Ghost, and all the other holy twelves of our religion.
By the will of the Holy Trinity — God’s “active” will or His merely “permissive” will — Jorge Mario Bergoglio is now reigning as Supreme Pontiff under the name Pope Francis. I will not ignore the fact that there are many traditionalists who are in a condition of extreme spiritual agita over his election as Pope. I think all this to be precipitous and unfruitful.
The duty of Christians to pray for their visible head on earth cannot be overlooked. To drive the point home, let me give two examples of popes whose pontificates were surprisingly not what they might have been, considering the personal history of each man who became Vicar of Christ. That their conversions were the result of prayer, I do not doubt. In the first case, I am well aware that at least one Saint was praying, as will be made clear.
From my article on the life of Saint Vincent Pallotti (originally a Housetops article, now on Catholicism.org), here is a brief excerpt concerning the election of Giovanni Maria Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti as Pope Pius IX:
“On June fourteenth , the white smoke was seen and the Habemus Papam! heard. When Don Vincenzo [Pallotti] found out the result of the papal election, he threw himself on his knees, wept, and pressed his balding head onto the stone floor of his cell in San Salvatore. When he arose, the tears still in his eyes, he declared, ‘Let us pray, great woes are in store for the Church!’ …
“This last ‘Monk-Pope’ [Gregory XVI, who was a Camaldolese monk] stridently resisted the spirit of Freemasonry and the doctrinal indifferentism that accompanied it. But his successor was known to be a liberal in political matters, and conservatives in Europe — Don Vincenzo included — quaked when this ‘compromise’ Cardinal was elected.
“To show how liberal Pio Nono’s family was regarded, we bring out this one fact: Gregory XVI had said of the Mastai household ‘Even the cats are liberal.’”
At the end of the thirty-two-year pontificate of Pope Pius IX — the longest pontificate since Saint Peter’s — during which he suffered terribly at the hands of the Freemasons and Catholic liberals, he was known as the Pope of the Syllabus of Modern Errors, the staunch opponent of liberalism. Indeed, he is now so much a symbol of the papacy opposing modernity that recent popes are contrasted with him as having “embraced the world.” Modern liberals, in fact, hate him.
If we look back further in history, we have the example of Pope Pius II (1447-1455). Before entering the clerical state, Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini was a brilliant scholar, poet, secretary to several bishops, and an incorrigible womanizer. While on an official embassy to Scotland for his employer, Cardinal Albergati, he sired an illegitimate child. He also made a ten-mile barefoot pilgrimage to a Marian Shrine at Whitekirk. (A bit conflicted, he was.) He was a partisan of the Anti-Pope Felix V, and therefore opposed the great Pope Eugene IV. He was also a conciliarist, i.e., someone who believed the authority of an ecumenical council to be superior to that of the pope. But when he became pope in 1447, Piccolomini had already experienced a sincere conversion, reversed his bad morals and bad doctrine, and eventually became known as a reform pope. Whenever someone would oppose his policies of reform by pointing to his dissolute past, he would say “Ignore Aeneas, but listen to Pius.”
Neither of these brief references to papal history are intended to be comparisons to our present Holy Father. My objective is to show that the Roman Pontiff’s past, whatever its particular features, need not predestine the direction of his papacy.