With Papal Visit Concluded, It's Full Synod Ahead | Carl E. Olson | Editorial | CWR
As the Synod of Bishops approaches, Catholics are faced with contradictory perceptions and pressing questions about Francis' longterm goals
As I watched coverage of the papal visit to the U.S. and waded through the steady—if wildly uneven—stream of articles about the same, I began to wonder: "A month from now, after the Synod, how might perceptions of this visit and this pope be revisited and revised?" It is a question that goes beyond the level of a curious thought exercise. By the end of October we will, I think, have a far clearer understanding of exactly how radical this pontificate is—or is not.
I purposely use the word "radical" since it is, by my entirely unscientific gauge, the most used adjective for this pope and his pontificate. To hear some pundits tell it, Francis is the first pope to walk, talk, hug babies, and chew gum at the same time. Nearly everything he does (or doesn't do) or says (or doesn't say) is construed as radical, unprecedented, unique, unusual, and new. It's an approach worth reflecting on for a moment because for it dominates how so many people view and interpret Francis' actions and words.
A fine example of this breathless approach is found in the handsome coffee table book Pope Francis and the New Vatican, published a few weeks ago by National Geographic. Take note of the hyperbolic quality of this descriptive copy:
Since his ascent to the papacy in 2013, Pope Francis has electrified the world and infused the Vatican with unprecedented energy. ... The Vatican finds the pope to be a paradox. Known as the “available pope,” a contradiction in terms, he is hailed by the press as a reformer, a radical and a revolutionary. Those close to him in Rome say he is all of these things, and yet none of them. The answer to the question reverberating around the world remains a mystery: Will Pope Francis change the Vatican, or will the Vatican change him? ... Timely and poignant, POPE FRANCIS AND THE NEW VATICAN reveals this spiritual revolutionary through a new lens.
Other words that regular appearances in the book are "change", "revolution", "contradictory" (as in Francis' "seemingly contradictory subtleties..."), "new", "remarkable", and—well, you get the picture. And if you want actual pictures, the book is loaded with them: beautiful, exceptional photos, as one expects to find in a National Geographic book. But what is also remarkable, besides the regular use of "remarkable", is a deep but unaware thread of incongruity and contradiction in the effusive essays, all written by Robert Draper. Writing about the early months of Francis' pontificate, Draper recounts how the Pope had said to a small group of visiting friends: "I really need to start making changes right now":