Francis: the Pope of our Punishment?

As I write I am not long returned from tending our small flock of sheep and its ten lambs. While there was a lovely interlude of warm sunshine. As I walked back in the sky clouded over and now the sky has gone darker still, and there is the rumbling of thunder.

All of which strikes me as rather an apt image of the first few days of Pope Francis’ pontificate, up to today’s liturgical inauguration of his petrine ministry. There has been much basking in the sunshine of a new pope of so many firsts: the South American, the first Jesuit, the first Francis, for example. He is also the first pope I know of to eschew so consciously many of the symbols of his papal office. And we stop now that things are full steam ahead with this new pontificate, the sunshine might be about to fade and the storm clouds edge into our horizons.

When Benedict XVI his abdication I was quite taken aback and wrote a post that was seen by some as charged more than usual with emotion. Among the things said then was:

Surely the wilful misrepresentations of his [Benedict XVI’s] teachings, the arrogant refusal to accept his attempts to reconcile those drifting from the Church and to restore order to the life and liturgy of the Church, the scandalous opprobrium heaped on him for the abuse crisis when he was one of the few who so clearly and consistently stood against it, the bile and venom spat at him – and not just by the world but especially by Catholics: all this is an indictment of God’s people just as much as of the world. …

… let us pray that in the Lenten conclave God will grant us the pope we should desire and not the one we have deserved by our culpable action, or inaction.

And on the election of Pope Francis, when assessing the signs he gave and the reactions to them in this post, I ventured to say that,

Pope Francis might not be the pope I was hoping for, but he seems like the pope we all need.

And still no mention of Vatican II…

So taking stock of Pope Francis’ radical stripping away of symbolism and his relatively minimalist way of celebrating Mass; his advocacy of concern for the poor and simplicity of life for all the Church; his stout defence of Church teaching on the moral issues most in contention today; the continued absence of any explicit mention of Vatican II as part of his rhetoric (except as an aside in a message to the Chief Rabbi of Rome rather than to the Church); and his repeated reference to the Devil and to the fact that not to be for Christ is to be for the Devil – all this makes me wonder if he is the rod of divine punishment for the Church. And this not least for:

  • those who have over-valued the trappings and ephemera of liturgy rather than directing their zeal more completely to the proper celebration of what is the Church’s liturgy, its form and structure, its orientation, its essential Christ-centredness as opposed to its minister-centredness (from priest down to extraordinary minister of Holy Communion);
  • those who have adopted the rhetoric (exposed in his last papal days by Benedict) of the the virtual Council, a political hermeneutic with power as its focus, rather than hermeneutic of faith in which the Second Vatican Council was intended to be conducted;
  • those who have continued to white-ant the moral teachings of the Church, Catholics who deny Church teaching yet profess still to be faithful Catholics;
  • those whose primary motivation is in practice to gain the good regard of the world rather than of Christ;
  • those whose life and priorities witness more to worldliness than to the purity of the Gospel of the Crucified Christ;
  • those who seek to refashion the Church to suit themselves, rather than convert themselves to the message of the Church; and
  • those who see the things of God as personal possessions rather than gifts held in trust.

Each one of us is probably covered by at least one of the categories listed.

Most probably we are all going to be discomfited by this pope. He is going to make us all fear, and strike us all where it hurts us most. Already the world is beginning to turn on him as they realise his simple purity in material affairs is matched by an equally simple purity in matters of faith and morals. He has already discomfited his fellow Jesuits. Gird your loins, people of God – Pope Francis might be about to deliver the smaller, purer Church Pope Benedict saw as required over the coming years.

If Pope Francis should prove a rod of punishment, then its strokes will be the discipline of a loving father. Yes, God does punish us in this life, no matter what the recent saccharine gospel might tell you. He punishes us now that we might not have to endure punishment eternally, punishment far worse than anything we could suffer in this world.

Outside my window it is now pouring with heavy rain – large drops obscuring the view, striking the ground hard and soaking it in but a few moments, making for an early twilight.

And still no mention of Vatican II…

37 thoughts on “Francis: the Pope of our Punishment?

      1. You don’t need a dish Father, just a freeview box and then Sky News is free. In the meantime, keep up your excellent coverage, better even that of Sky!


      2. Compliments will get you everywhere with me! But thank you – I mean it.

        So Sky is on freeview?! Oh no – I COULD have watched it. Botheration!

        Thanks for the tip off. Forewarned is forearmed for the future.



  1. Dear Fr. Hugh,
    I understand that all the Cardinal-electors did not attend Vatican II, so maybe this has some bearing.

    The author, Thomas Green, S.J., in his book about spirituality of the Laity in the wake of Vatican II claimed that it takes the Church some 50 years to absorb the teachings of a Council. In the interregnum the pendulum swings this way and that… after the 50 years She begins to move forward in the teachings of a Council.

    Maybe ?


    1. Perhaps. Maybe as Benedict says, we are in need of reclaiming the real Council not the version foisted upon us by the media and the spirit of the age. But I find his silence fascinating. Just about any bishop now feels a need to make some nod to Vatican II before you can say “aggiornamento”. But not Francis….




      1. Perhaps Francis is one of those who regard Vatican II as having been not an ecumenical council, precisely, because the eastern half of the Church wasn’t represented, but actually a synod of western bishops. He may surprise many, if he’s around long enough, and finally convoke that truly ecumenical council which never had a chance to take place.


      2. Now there is a thought. Given the shocks and surprises of the last 6 weeks, I would not rule out your idea one little bit. We need the Orthodox back to help with liturgy for a start!


  2. Many in the sixties felt we were ripe for aggiornamento. But if the western Church can’t get its act together, it may soon be time for buona notte. I’m quite positive and cheerful about the long term prospects, however, especially with the East on board. The ride may be quite bumpy for the next few decades, however!


    1. I cannot quite go with you all the way there. There will be no “buona notte” for the Catholic Church. What might/probably will happen is that, as Benedict XVI warned, it will get smaller and purer. That would be painful but liberating. And we have been there before: most of Christendom went Arian for a while but the true Church soldiered on, beleaguered but with great hope.

      Obviously, a reunited Church is going to be so much stronger, not least in its witness to the world. And let’s be honest: reunion is what God wants, so we need to be quick about it.



      1. Buona notte to the western Church as we’ve known it is more than possible, and has largely been achieved already, in our own lifetimes. I’m not speaking of any buona notte, of course, to the Catholic Church, which is a far greater thing and profounder mystery transcending earthly geographies and specific rites and cultures. And a hearty ‘buon giorno!’ to exactly what Benedict has described is very much in order. I’m all for it.


  3. Dear Hugh,

    I think liturgy and sacred music will take on a lower profile at the Vatican under Pope Francis. The Jesuits, generally speaking were never particularly interested in liturgy and sacred music. That is how I remember my time at SAC in the 60s and early 70s. The Australian composer Fr. Christopher Willcock SJ is naturally an exception.
    My heart goes out to Monsignor Marini tonight, as I feel there may be a change in the direction of his work as a priest. He certainly carried out his duties as Papal Master of Ceremonies with dignity and humility and had a very caring manner with Pope Benedict XVI. I appreciated seeing many historical vestments and other items from the Papal treasury being used however in the last two years I feel things were somewhat overdone with so many new vestments and mitres.
    Apart from his outstanding spiritual, theological and teaching legacy, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI did much to improve the standard of liturgy and sacred music at the Vatican which then flowed on to the wider Church.
    At the end of the numerous special concerts in honour of Pope Benedict XVI in the Sistine Chapel and Paul VI Hall over the last eight years – which were performed by some of the world’s leading orchestras and choirs – Pope Benedict XVI always gave an inspiring address combining the elements of his enormous musical knowledge and placing them in the context of the Christian Faith. He spoke of the role of music and art in uplifting the human spirit and drawing us closer to God, which in turn can help us to love and serve Him and our fellow human beings more fully. These excellent discourses were brought to a conclusion with his Apostolic Blessing.
    I experienced such an address in 2011, when we performed the 9th Symphony and Te Deum of Anton Bruckner and it was a fulfilling evening.
    Zubin Mehta mentioned that he recently performed the Beethoven 9th with his Florence orchestra and was fascinated at Pope Benedict’s depth and understanding of Beethoven in his short 15 minute address without notes which captivated both the audience and the orchestra.
    The standard of the Sistine Chapel Choir improved considerably during the Papacy of Pope Benedict, not that we witnessed that at the Mass for the Conclave and also the Mass of Installation today.
    The blessing now for the Church is Pope Francis’ deep faith, sincerity and humility. Yes, he celebrates a “low key” mass but in a very prayerful and reverent mass as we have seen today. Pope Francis is a profound preacher who speaks to the heart of his flock in a clear and simple manner. I was very moved by his sermon and his deep faith.
    I think that the recent Papal election shows that the Holy Spirit indeed is the guiding light of the Church. No one would have expected this outcome and we now stand at the beginning of a new era for the Church similar to the beginning of the Papacy of Blessed Pope John XXIII.
    If we can place our trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit then we have nothing to really fear in the years ahead with Pope Francis at the helm of the Barque of St Peter. That is my sincere hope and prayer and I wish him every blessing and good health for this onerous task, especially in solving the grave problems facing the Church at the current time.


    1. As you point out, the legacy left by Benedict is a rich one, not least for so relatively short a papacy. His love for music and all things beautiful touched a theological cord in him. Pope Francis’ has already emphasized beauty as part of the Church’s mission, indeed he punched it home. Time will tell what his aesthetic of beauty shapes up to be, but it is promising nevertheless.

      Another thing is clear too, namely that Benedict was something resembling the Renaissance man we used once to hold up as a goal: he is learned, multilingual, musical and sensitive to sight and sound. He is no mono-focused academic. That too is a gift to a modern world which focuses far too much on narrow specialization, with the result that people lose sight of the big picture.

      Thanks for your musical insights – my antennae are not so well tuned, nor my musical knowledge anywhere near adequate.



  4. Although Pope Francis is put forward as very humble I somehow feel that there is, perhaps, too much pride in his humility. The fact of not wearing the papal mozetta & red shoes is there to show the importance of the OFFICE of pope, not the personality of the HOLDER of the office. Insofar as he did not sing either at his election blessing ‘Urbi et Orbi’ or during today’s Mass is concerning. No-one thinks the the Pope must sing like Pavarotti, but he should sing when required, however poorly he may do it


    1. I take solace that he is being consistent with his previous practice so it is not a new-found humility. And I am convinced that his pontificate will not be a high-water mark for liturgy!



  5. I watched the whole 4 hour ceremony on my computer from the American catholic TV station EWTN (eternal word television network ) which you can access via your search engine. My feeling is that this Pope will direct his teaching to us in the pews rather than to the intelligentia, regarding himself as a parish priest whose parish embraces the whole world.


    1. This Pope does has a very direct way of preaching – to the point of bluntness even. I have to say that initially I was a little bit scared of him – he seemed so stern after the very warm Benedict! I don’t consider myself oversensitive but his first homily in the Sistine Chapel quoting Leon Bloy without much in the way of further qualification seemed very un-nuanced to me!

      I think though his teaching is highly effective. For someone like me, I have a tendency to rationalise and to qualify. I think the Pope’s directness doesn’t allow that – there isn’t the same patient build up of argument, substantiation, consideration of counter-argument, rebuttal, the reinforcement that the previous Pope had (has!). I don’t think that’s a bad thing – particularly when you are dealing with large crowds with limited attention span.

      Again slightly more scriptural exegesis would be nice, but we have plenty of exegetical resources at our disposal anyway.

      I think he will prove himself to be a very effective preacher.

      For taste of what is to come – I encourage you to watch this video all the way to the end.

      He says at the end “If you don’t worship God, you will have something else. I don’t know which one..a pet..cosmetics..I don’t know.”

      Stirring stuff. People who felt sensitive enough to think of Joseph Ratzinger the panzerkardinal won’t know what will hit them really!

      P.S. – I thought today’s liturgy was very good for a Mass in the piazza. The vestments (very quickly made in a few days for the occasion) were gorgeous – almost monastic really and clearly it was of the very highest quality. If all the Masses of his pontificate are like this one, I don’t think many people will have much to complain about (if he adheres to Pastor Bonus as JPII and Benedict XVI did then, Mgr Marini’s term ends in late 2017 as his current 5 year term was recently renewed by Benedict XVI in late 2012.)


      1. Hi Justin.

        Yes, Francis’ preachig style is very direct and I think you are on to something with your insight that this will suit well the short attention spans of our media-condition, “soundbite” age. Benedict was a theologian who gave thoughtful reasoned arguments that need to be read from go to whoa. Most people cannot be bothered, nor can the media which just extracts a quotation that out of its context can be made newsworthy. The beauty of Francis’ style is that he spopon feeds the soundbites, and they are doozies: if you are not praying to Christ, you are praying to the devil. Stunning!

        I am not sure about the Pope’s vestment yesterday. The chasuble seemed to match the mitre, and there is a photo of Francis in Beunos Aires (in company with Presidentrix Kirchner, him in blue vestments) with an identical mitre as yesterday’s. Mmmmmm…… the concelebrants looked really very fine in their chasubles. I was saying to others here that on an absolute scale, this would have been a liturgy that we would have welcomed in an English cathedral. But for a papal inauguration, with Bartholomew et al there, it was lacklustre at times, and low Church. A pity, perhaps even worrying but not yet the end of the world.

        Not sure either about Mgr Marini’s security of tenure. He is not looking very happy.

        Thanks for your link – will check it asap!



    2. Yes, I think you are right. His style so far, even down to vestments, is that of a parish priest. Whether he can continue in that vein we shall see: it is hard to be a pontiff and a PP at once.



  6. Pope Francis wears black shoes and is given the label ‘humble’ (not the only reason, I know)
    Pope Benedict XVI wore read shoes and has been accused of being ostentatious (ditto for the qualifier)
    Pope John-Paul II wore brown shoes. What does that make him?
    All this to suggest that we are perhaps reading too much into some of the signs given out in the first few days of the new papacy. Maybe we will need to give Pope Francis a little more time before drawing too many conclusions.
    ‘Wait without thought, for you are not yet ready for thought:
    So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing’ (T.S. Eliot).


      1. For an outdoor ceremony, I thought the inaugural Mass for the new Pope was really very dignified. They had provided the Pope with a red velvet throne and canopy, and the altar was very nicely arranged in the “Benedictine” style, and with a seventh candle behind the Cross. Frankly, I had been expecting a plain white chair, stubby altar candles, etc., in the style of Archbishop Piero Marini. Perhaps that is a “pleasure” we can look forward to ! The Mass was in Latin, with the Roman canon in full. I thought the singing was dire, but I’ve heard worse ! And it was good to hear the Salve Regina and the Te Deum. There was really nothing to object to.

        Even so, compared with the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Churches, I doubt the Ecumenical Patriarch would have been terribly impressed by it. If there is to be union between East and West, I think Rome will first need to put its house in order liturgically. I am thinking particularly of the ornate and lengthy Russian Orthodox liturgy we saw on television at the enthronment of Patriarch Kirill I. Liturgy lite would not have been an accurate description ! The thing is : the Orthodox liturgies are so traditional. Of course, the Roman liturgy was never as ornate and florid as the Byzantine, but you can take “noble simplicity” too far ! And I doubt liturgy will be high on the new Pope’s agenda.

        As to papal infallibility, it occurs to me this is a real hurdle between East and West.

        Oh well, perhaps I should stop sounding so pessimistic, and wait and see what happens.

        I hope Father is not working too hard.

        Pax et bonum



      2. Salve Petre.

        Indeed the ceremony was dignified, and I too noted the Benedictine altar arrangement, the traditional chanting of the gospel in Greek, the boy chorister, the Latin, and the excellent adaptation to an outdoor liturgy (which was always going to hinder the music). It would have been nice if the Pope had sung the minimum required for a solemnity, but I suspect both that he has no voice and that he was nervous (quite understandable – he is human). But I d owish it had been inside the basilica, which is there for a reason.

        Actually I do not think infallibility is insuperable. The East accepted it in matters of faith before the Schism. What they object to is (in their view) an overblown application of primacy. This can be addressed. I have hope on that front. If Francis delivers closer relations between East and West he can go to his grave a happy pope.



    1. Hehe! Yep, he mentions it twice. But again, note, it is apropos of something bigger: ecumenism and relations with the Jewish people. His use so far of Vatican II has been subtle, low key and in a healthy proportion. He seems to recognise in clear times that Vatican II is not the church’s only council, nor even its most important one, just its most recent one. He seems very balanced in this regard.



  7. I do not think infallibility is insuperable.

    Well said, Father ! Neither do I.

    I have not really thought the matter through. I look, not at the causes of the Great Schism of 1054, but at present difficulties in healing the schism. Presumably, the Orthodox Churches will always wish to preserve their autocephaly. In this, I can see how they can recognise the primacy of Constantinople, but not the supremacy of Rome. (I am thinking here of the papal supremacy as defined under Pius IX, and practised by him and subsequent popes. Perhaps I am thinking of the less desirable consequences of Ultramontanism. I hope I am not committing heresy ! )

    From Rome’s point of view, the uniate Churches, in that they are (as I understand it,) sui iuris, seem to point the way. However, from Constantinople’s point of view, their very existence seems something of a stumbling block. I don’t fully understand why.

    I hope Father might find the time to post more fully on this subject at a future date, if he feels there is sufficient interest. The re-unification (if that is the word) of the apostolic Churches seems to me not only desirable, but, well, logical, if not imperative. (Of course, I don’t mean “imperative” in the sense of “necessary”. Clearly, the Church can continue its mission, under Peter, as it is, but to quote previous popes, why breathe with one lung when you can breathe with two ? And I can’t help feeling the time to heal the schism is now (or, at any rate, sometime before 2054 !)

    I begin to see what Father means about renouncing coffee in order to achieve this goal, although I must confess my coffee is de-caffeinated !



  8. P.S.
    I look forward to reading Father’s reaction to the sight of what looked like two popes greeting each other at Castelgandolfo last Saturday, when the Pope visited the former pope for lunch.

    There they both were together in front of the television cameras, both dressed in white, both looking like popes !
    I have to admit the sight made the mind boggle a bit. Perhaps it is a sight we will have to get used to in future years. But it was passing strange . . .


    There th wearing white (with subtle differences) and


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