When Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran stepped onto the balcony and announced that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina had been elected pope, I remember my mind scrambling to put a face with the name. Only seconds later news came that he was a Jesuit. Panic set in. Words like liberation theology, dissent, and modernism read like a digital road sign across my mind. It wasn’t until I learned that he was a "well-formed" Jesuit that my fears eased.
On the other hand, listening to the immediate reaction to Pope Francis's election by the secular media, including many dissident Catholics, one would think the Vatican was about to experience a bloodless coup d'état. It was as if at any moment magisterial documents on women in the priesthood, abortion, contraception, and same-sex "marriage" would be whisked out of the Vatican and burned in St. Peter's Square. They were elated over the prospect that this new pope would be their agent of change. As a self-described "progressive Catholic" writer put it:
While I don't predict that this pope will make any of the more radical changes Catholics might have dreamed of in the '60s and '70s, I do think Pope Francis shows some signs of moving the Catholic dogma down a kinder path.
Sorry to disappoint, but moving Catholic dogma down a "kinder path"—if by kinder is meant opposite—won't happen. Ever. Aside from the fact that a pope cannot change or modify divinely revealed truth, Pope Francis has never given any signals that he is anything but faithful to the magisterium of the Catholic Church. In fact, Pope Francis has shown himself to be a straight-talking preacher who isn't afraid of using the kind of language that some in the dissenting camp might label as "negative" and "harsh." I've lost count over how many times Pope Francis has used the words devil, Satan, the Evil One, and the Enemy in his homilies and various addresses. He has even quoted the French convert Leon Bloy, who said, "Whoever does not pray to God prays to the devil." So much for moving dogma down a kinder path.
You gotta love Pope Francis's holy boldness. Any of the wonderful quotes below could be used as great fodder for homilies! Preaching like this will grow the Church, increase lines to the confessional, create a more reverent liturgy, and bring lapsed Catholics back to Mass.
"Where there is calumny, there is Satan himself."
"Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst."
"The devil comes, often disguised as an angel, and slyly speaks his word to us. Do not listen to him! Let us follow Jesus!"
"When we walk without the cross, when we build without the cross, and when we profess Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord."
"Let us never give in to the pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil places before us every day. Let us not give in to pessimism and discouragement."
"If we want to take the path of worldliness, bargaining with the world . . . we will never have the consolation of the Lord. And if we seek consolation alone, it will be a superficial consolation, not the Lord's consolation, but a human consolation."
"Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church’s credibility."
"But when we start to cut down the faith, to negotiate faith, a little like selling it to the highest bidder, we take the path of apostasy, of disloyalty to the Lord."
Preach it, Pope Francis. This is what we need to hear! Good preaching is essential in the Church today. It’s central to evangelization. As Pope John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae:
She [the Church] exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of his death and glorious resurrection.
We need to hear the unvarnished truth preached in a way that compels us to have a deeper understanding of the word of God and how it applies to our everyday lives. Tepid sermons, not based on truth but on empty sentimentality so as to not offend, lead people away from the Church. St. Paul attests to this truth in 2 Timothy 4:2–5 where he says:
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Good preaching is an antidote to weak faith! Let's pray for our priests that the Holy Spirit will give them the holy boldness exemplified by Pope Francis in his courageous proclamations of the truth against Satan, who is roaming throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
The preacher of the gospel will therefore be a person who even at the price of personal renunciation and suffering always seeks the truth that he must transmit to others. He never betrays or hides truth out of a desire to please men, in order to astonish or to shock, nor for the sake of originality or a desire to make an impression. He does not refuse truth. He does not obscure revealed truth by being too idle to search for it, or for the sake of his own comfort, or out of fear. He does not neglect to study it. He serves it generously, without making it serve him (Evangelii Nuntiandi).