I’ve been watching over the last two weeks as Catholics in the United States from various points on the political and religious spectrum argue about who between Republicans and Democrats or conservatives and liberals have more to fear from Pope Francis. “Republicans have a Pope Francis Problem,” proclaimed one op-ed, prompting a blog post titled, “Who Has a Pope Francis Problem? Not only Republicans.” Comments to articles and posts along either lines yield heated debates about whose “Pope Francis Problem” is a bigger one, “progressive” or “conservative” Catholics; political liberals or conservatives.
I was reminded while reading such posts of a conversation I had with my then spiritual director before an election some years ago. I remarked that I was no longer comfortable calling myself either Democrat or Republican. Without a pause he replied, “That’s because you’re not Republican or Democrat. You’re Catholic.”
The discussion of which of Republicans or Democrats or which of “progressive” or “conservative” Catholics has a bigger “Pope Francis problem” is at best a silly one and at worse a convenient diversion from the real issue.
Pope Francis is a challenge to all of us in the United States. Very few of us are living the lives of radical simplicity, generosity, and prayer his life models. All (or at least most) of us consume far more than we need. All (or most) of us could be more generous to and concerned for the needs of the most vulnerable around us. All (or most) or us could spend more time deepening our relationship with God.
Pope Francis calls all of us to a deeper relationship to Christ. And he calls each of us to live lives that reflect that relationship. It would be far more beneficial for each of us to focus on the challenge the new pope offers to our own lives than to worry about whether someone else has a bigger “Pope Francis Problem” than we do.