Pope Francis has been a hot topic for media outletskinds in the past year. TIME chose him as person of the year over Miley Cyrus, Edward Snowden, Bashar Assad and others.
Members of social news site Reddit, not known to be a religious group (r/atheism is one of the most popular subreddits), have expressed near universal admiration for the Holy Father. This acclaim has been reflected by people all over the world. Pope Francis was the news of the year. And for what? Simply doing his job.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing; I’m as big of a supporter of the pope as anybody. He’s exactly what the church desperately needed. The fact he has gotten so much attention for his humility, anti-materialism and compassion for society’s less fortunate is as much a glaring red flag, a sign of past failure, as it is a testament to the pontiff’s character.
Jesus meant for the leaders of his mission to be like him, but we, as a church, including some of our leaders, have strayed far from this goal. The leader of the Catholic Church being Christlike should not be newsworthy, but it is. Unfortunately.
The reason for this isn’t hard to see. The church has lost touch with the people. While the average person seems to be more attentive to human rights issues and other injustices than ever before, the Catholic Church seems to be equivalently static, unmoved and stubborn in its pursuit of retaining tradition.
On the papal plane on his way home from World Youth Day, Pope Francis said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” In saying this, the pope extended the church’s message of compassion. Rather than emphasizing why gay marriage can’t happen, the church, as an institution of Christ, should be following suit and leading efforts to end discrimination and injustice against the LGBTQ community.
Too much church discussion gives the impression that Catholics are an unwelcoming crowd, but when it’s authentic, Catholicism should be primarily about acceptance and love, not pushing people away.
Leaders can change their tone without changing the doctrine. This alone will be enough to change public perception. The rising generation has the potential to make a positive difference in the world, and if the church finds a way to better represent Jesus’ teachings and connect with the young people, it could help ensure that this potential will be realized.
It seems like many non-Catholics, and a good bunch of Catholics, too, view the church as the stereotypical grumpy old man – boring, traditional and generally uncaring.
Though a few too many powerful men in church history have fit this description, this characterization could not be further from the soul of Catholicism, and I’ve met plenty of Catholics who are evidence of this.
In grade school, we used to sing a song with a chorus that jovially proclaimed: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love!” I always enjoyed that one, partially because of its catchiness, and partially because it reminded me what it truly means to be Catholic.
But when most people think of Catholicism today, I don’t think love is the first thing that comes to mind. For many, it’s the negatives that are thought of first.
“They’ll know we are Christians by our closed minds and sex scandals!” doesn’t seem to have the same ring to it. It’s no surprise that not enough people are interested in the priesthood.
We as a church have a long way to go. The Gospel message is so great, and many Christians are leading incredible lives as they follow Jesus’ example, but the church as a whole needs change.
I hope Pope Francis is a new beginning for us, a catalyst for change that is long overdue.
It’s time to drop the politics, drop some of the formalism and embrace the message of love and compassion that inspired the formation of this great religion. Pope Francis has turned the world’s eyes to the Catholic Church. Now it’s time for us to follow in his footsteps, take action, and put the Christ in Christian again. Nothing could be more newsworthy.
(Jacob, the eldest of the four Scobey-Polacheck children, is a freshman at the University of Notre Dame.)