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Recommended: Challenge yourself with Pope Francis’ latest interview

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jan 23, 2017

Each person responds to a homily, address or interview by the Holy Father in his or her own unique way. Most often, the question in our minds is: “Did the Pope respond to my primary concerns in a helpful manner?” Thus, we start by being concerned about something based on our own perception of reality. Then, if we find that Pope Francis does not address it to our satisfaction, we conclude that he is, in some sense, a failure. In addition, we conclude that we now have solid evidence of the Pope’s deficiencies.

This is perfectly normal. As the brilliant philosopher and scientist Michael Polanyi proved back in the 1950s, all knowledge is personal. There is no such thing as purely “objective” knowledge, as if some perfectly objective discipline (something like physics, for example) can be used as a standard, relegating everything else to the status of a myth. That is not the solution to the problem.

No, the solution to the problem has always been self-knowledge, which inescapably depends on deep personal reflection, humility, and prayer. We cannot guarantee our own freedom from misconception and/or prejudice, but we can—as a part of personal growth—become increasingly aware of our own tendencies so as to guard against errors that may be connected with them. We can also listen carefully to other points of view, reining in our first reactions in favor of attempting to discern whatever elements of the truth these other points of view may contain.

It is in this spirit that I recommend reading Pope Francis’ interview with the Spanish daily El Pais. Our news story on the interview highlights the Pope’s brief comments on the new American President, Donald Trump, but a great many other topics are covered, and Pope Francis seems to have gotten through it without inadvertently provoking anyone to tear his hair out. In that sense, it offers an opportunity to get to know the Holy Father a little better without finding ourselves suddenly in the midst of another painful controversy. Most readers will want to use the English translation.

A personal example

It is in the nature of our respective personalities (speaking only for myself) that I perceive Pope Francis as too often tilting at windmills. For example, when Pope Francis sees a Catholic who has a serious concern for Catholic doctrinal purity, he seems to see a “doctor of the law” who cares little about human suffering, whereas (all other things being equal) I see a Catholic who understands the beliefs and values that are necessary to free souls from a secular culture which wants nothing more than to destroy their lives in this world and the next. I say “all other things being equal” because I have met—as I am sure all of us have met—some doctrinaire persons whose primary mission in life seems to be to dismiss and condemn.

But this overlap is important. It means that, in terms of the instincts of personality, Pope Francis and I share a region of overlapping concerns. But what the Pope sees as an unfortunate norm, I often see as an isolated exception, and vice versa. What the Pope sees as the most important point to make in a particular situation often seems to me the least important point that might be made. I know I am not alone in this, at least among those who are drawn to CatholicCulture.org. But the point to keep in mind when we encounter such divergent instincts is that we must remain aware of them, first and foremost in ourselves, at all times.

In particular, we must discern the difference within ourselves between a conviction generated by passion and a conviction based upon a valid argument. Most of the time we operate (or at least I operate) as if all of my convictions are based on valid arguments. In discussions with others, this will sometimes lead to personal embarrassment. What I am trying to suggest is that such problems are central to the human condition, and we are better off if we cultivate greater self-awareness as we consider the positions of those with whom we may disagree.

Back to the interview

In addition to such exercises in self-awareness, I think it is also helpful to read an interview with Pope Francis that is not dominated by something particularly controversial. It is an opportunity to get to know the Holy Father better, and to appreciate his strengths, without having to look through the gray mist of disappointment, or even the red mist of rage. So let me start you off on the worthwhile exercise of reading his latest interview, by extracting one intriguing passage. This is Pope Francis speaking:

Within the Church hierarchy…I am more afraid of those who are anesthetized…. I am talking about those who are anesthetized by mundane affairs…. Everything is seemingly calm, everything is apparently quiet, everything is going right.... When you read the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul’s epistles, it was a mess, there were troubles, people were on the move…. An anesthetized person is not in touch with people. He protects himself against reality…. Maybe the most dangerous illness for a pastor is the one produced by anesthetics…. I am over here and the people are over there…. [But] if you don’t take care of those people, if you give up on taking care of those people, then you should pack your bags and retire.

All of us can think of at least some ways in which this has often been true, even if we might not always agree on who is anesthetized and who is not. But it is an interesting question—and for each of us it is also an extraordinarily challenging question. Here, then, we have a self-critical opportunity to get to know Pope Francis just a little bit better. It is a course I recommend. The interview is entitled “Pope Francis: ‘The danger is that in times of crisis we look for a savior’”. And if even the title rubs you the wrong way, remember that the danger consists in forgetting that we already have one.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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