Friday, October 4, 2013

To Bless, Not to Condemn

St. Francis of Assisi
This past week a visitor asked me what Flannery O'Connor would have thought of the new pope.  Good question.  My initial response was that I think overall she would approve since Francis seems to be cut out of the same cloth as John XXIII, a pope O'Connor regarded highly.  Since today is the feast day of Francis of Assisi, the saint whose name Jorge Mario Bergoglio took when he was elected pope, I thought I might explore the question further.  Before continuing, it is important to remember that we live in a very different day and time than when John XXIII was elected pope in October, 1958.   Therefore, what Flannery would have thought of any pope today is pure conjecture.  Nevertheless, there are some parallels that suggest she would have given Francis the thumbs up.  Like John, Francis is reaching out to those who, in the past, have been marginalized and disenfranchised by the church.  In Francis's vision none are excluded - not even unbelievers.  All are loved and accepted by God.  All have a place at the table.  When John XXIII assumed the the chair of St. Peter, the windows of the church were literally thrown open to the world.  One could cite many examples, but one that touched O'Connor personally was the pope's acceptance of Teilhard de Chardin, an author whose works were previously banned by the Vatican.  When asked about Teilhard, Pope John remarked, "I am here to bless, not to condemn."  As refreshing as this was, O'Connor was not happy with all the changes that were occurring in the church as a result of the Second Vatican Council that John convened in 1959.  She was not enthused about the move from Latin to the vernacular in the mass.  In fact, she thought some of the trial liturgies were hideous.  Nevertheless, as a loyal daughter of the church, Flannery accepted the change.  She died before the Council adjourned so it is hard to say without reservation how she would have sized up the papacy of John XXIII.  It's even harder to guess what her opinion would be of Francis, whose papacy is just in its infancy.
- Mark

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