Pope Francis was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. Certainly it depicts the impact the first non-European pope in 1,300 years and the very first pope from the Americas has had on the psyche of humanity.

He beat out Miley Cyrus and her sexual gyrations. It speaks more about our culture than it does about Pope Francis to think that Miley Cyrus would be considered in the same breath as the pope.

But, of course, popularity is fleeting.

Time magazine claims it selects the person who has had the most influence in the world and not necessarily for the good. Remember, Time selected Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin (twice), Nikita Khrushchev as well as the Ayatollah Khomeini. These individuals caused a few nightmares in the lives of peace-loving people.

There is no doubt Pope Francis has brought a renewed energy to the Christian message. People of the world seemed to make an instant connection with this cardinal from Argentina.

When I attended World Youth Day in Brazil, it was obvious young people were claiming him as one of their own.

The pope demonstrated his willingness to depart from the normal routine and downplay the pomp and circumstance that accompanies the papal office. His simplicity of life and genuine concern for the poor reminded many of the faithful of the saint whose name he chose, Francis of Assisi.

He is probably the most popular saint in the last thousand years of Christianity. That statement alone should evoke a good deal of discussion among many of our religious orders.

Singled out for the distinction of being Person of the Year only makes sense for an individual like the pope or any religious leader if it translates into an audience willing to listen to his message.

In the release of his recent encyclical, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Nov. 26, the pope offered comments on the “tyranny of unchecked capitalism.” He observed that any economy of exclusion and inequality had proven deadly for many people throughout the world.

There is a need for us to change our ways of dealing with the poor and the disenfranchised. There should be an emphasis on access to education, health and the necessities of life.

A firestorm of reaction erupted from social commentators who perceived the pope as anti-capitalist and espousing Marxist tendencies. His critics did not understand that the pope’s critique is based on the Gospel and Catholic social moral principles.

For the pope as teacher, any system of thought or organization, be it sociological, psychological, philosophical or economic, is measured by its response to the Gospel and the church’s teachings.
In this sense, the pope is exercising his role as a teacher. This is not the first time the social teaching of the church has been criticized. When Pope John XXIII issued his encyclical, “Mater et Magistra” (“Mother and Teacher”), the political commentator William F. Buckley so disagreed with parts of the encyclical that he wrote “Mater Si, Magistra No” (“Mother yes, Teacher No”).

John Paul II was always criticized for his constant attention to social teachings of the church. During his papacy, he commented and expanded on every aspect of the church’s papal social teachings.

Unfortunately, many pick and choose what seems to further their own particular, often political, agenda and reject his voice when it challenges our positions. This is certainly true for Pope Francis.

But his critics will not discourage him; in fact, they will probably embolden him.  

As we enter the Christmas season, it seems to me an inordinate anger emerges from those who claim to be atheists, agnostics and secularists. I’ve tried to analyze their anger.

Billboards appear denouncing Christmas, specifically Christ in Christmas. Lawsuits are filed against any public display of the Nativity scene. And even a fake display was erected honoring “festivus” (a mock holiday which appeared in a “Seinfeld” episode) with Pabst beer cans piled one upon another in a tower-like fashion placed in front of the crèche in a public area as a protest of the Christmas message.

There is a war on Christmas and it is a carry-over from the war on Christianity and, of course, the Catholic Church.

Some of the anger has to do with our teachings on sexual morality, our support for traditional marriage, our pro-life stance and for just being believers in a transcendent God.

This means all of our organizations are under attack – our schools, our hospitals and our charities – and there are some in our society who would love it if we would just abandon our missions in these areas. But we won’t because it’s the Gospel mandate.

So our antagonists will shout, yell and scream and we will pray knowing that truth is on our side.

I have long been a fan of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. It has consistently been a voice exposing the explicit and implicit attacks on the Catholic Church. At this time in the history of our nation, we need as many voices as possible to protect our rights as Catholics.

The ultimate goal for all of us is to attain heaven. Pope Francis being named Time magazine’s Person of the Year must irritate the critics of Christianity.

In the recognition that there is something special about a figure willing to publicly live the Gospel and defend the faith, perhaps there is hope for our culture.

Two other popes have been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year: Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. Both will be proclaimed saints on April 27, 2014. Pope Francis is definitely in good company.