Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How is Pope Francis doing so far?

Did you see the story about the couple who were driving to a Dave Matthews concert and stopped to pick up a hitchhiker and the hitchhiker turned out to be Dave Matthews? Wait, it gets better: Matthews was hitchhiking because he had a flat. On his bike! Because the big rock star rode a bike to his own concert!

Why do I mention this? Well, all of a sudden Pope Francis paying for his own hotel room doesn't seem like such a big thing does it?

The bigger problem, as I pointed out at the beginning, is that the whole making a show of your humility isn't humble. It's the exact opposite. Dave Matthews doesn't brag about biking to his own concerts, he just does it. If there were photo opportunities for the press to get shots of him on the bike every concert, we'd all have been properly cynical and suspected there was actually an air-conditioned SUV sitting around the corner.

I'm sorry, but this pope has a major Uriah Heap vibe going about him. This became particularly painful when it was reported that he has twice surveyed the parking lot at the Vatican to see if any of the priests there were driving cars that were too nice.

For those of you who think of Uriah Heap as a mediocre rock band, I mean the Dickens character. These three sentences from Wikipedia will give you a good feel for him: "The character is notable for his cloying humility, obsequiousness, and insincerity, making frequent references to his own "'humbleness". His name has become synonymous with being a yes man. He is the central antagonist of the later part of the book." No, I'm not saying that Francis is like that.

But we don't know that he isn't either because, to date, we know almost nothing useful about the man. Yesterday at NCR (The Not Catholic Reporter), John Allen noted that a lot of recent coverage of Pope Francis has been pure hype. Actually, all the reporting on Francis from the moment of his election has been hype. And if we judged this guy the same way we judge rock stars, we'd immediately recognize it as such.

Will it work?

But there is another, deeper problem. You might put it this way, "Is it even good hype?" Is this whole humble guy act the sort of thing to inspire the world or that will pull Catholics back to the church? Journalists love it but an awful lot of journalists are shallow and obsessed with novelty. Pope Francis needs to convince people to make very serious decisions about their destiny and purpose in life. This is far deeper and more momentous than the sort of thing that makes fickle journalists stand up and salute. I don't see any substance yet.

This week in Canada, the press covered the "grieving process" of the community that suffered a major rail disaster last week. Think about that for a while. The pain and suffering of others was treated as an occasion for "news", which is to say entertainment. In any sort of reasonably civilized culture, the journalists who showed up to film these people in what ought to have been private moments would have been horsewhipped.

The thing that worries me about Francis is that too much of what he does plays into that kind of journalism as morality play. Too much of it is about posing as humble the way celebrities are humble.

And it gets worse if you ask yourself, what has the man actually accomplished? It's early days and perhaps that question is unfair but all this hype tends to force the question on us. Pope Francis is in great danger of becoming Pope Oprah.

I hope and pray that I am wrong but ...

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