R.R. Reno on Pop(e) Francis
Date: January 4th, 2015
After about two years on the job, Pope Francis — the Jesuit pontiff from Argentina — continues to capture the popular imagination of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world. His direct way of communication and simple style of living enamor him to many. We invite Dr. R.R. (Rusty) Reno, editor of First Things and former professor of theology at Creighton University, to discuss a recent article he wrote for Christianity Today entitled “Pop Francis: From Secular Journalists to Charismatic Christians, Why So Many of Us Are Taken with the Jesuit from Argentina.”
We start out the discussion with a little revelation about Rusty’s own spiritual journey noting that he recently converted to Catholicism from his former Episcopal upbringing, similar to recent guest Jim Tonkowich. Our opening comments also include a deep theological exploration of whether dogs go to heaven, as Pope Francis was reported to have said. Tony plays his Protestant trump card by noting that none other than Martin Luther declared our canine companions will have golden tails in the Kingdom to come. Dr. Reno reassures Tony that Catholic theology holds a special place for all God’s creation, a point that helps put Rocky Barkington (the RoR mascot) at ease.
We use this discussion on heavenly dogs to springboard a discussion on how the media has treated Pope Francis. Rusty points out that Francis did not explicitly state that dogs go to heaven, but was rather citing another person and the press picked up this statement and ran with it. This tendency of the popular media is not uncommon and has been repeated in other areas from the pope’s statements on capitalism to matters of sexual ethics including homosexuality. Rusty provides a few reasons for this including the media’s reading of the Vatican through a modern, secular lens, as well as Francis’s own tendency to be rhetorically provocative. Unlike his predecessors, Francis loves to speak off-the-cuff and has a homiletic style that stops people in their tracks in order to get them to think. Rusty also provides some interesting thoughts about how people of our age tend to accept the “changing status quo” and how this affects the way we view the new pope.
We then dive into some background on Msgr. Bergoglio , with Rusty clarifying some of Tony’s confusion about the choice his pontifical name. (Rusty also helps Tony pronounce “Bergoglio.”) First, we find out that it is technically correct to call him Pope Francis, not Francis I (as some evangelical editors are quick to write). Second, “Francis” does refer to the founder of the Franciscans — St. Francis of Assisi, and not necessarily Francis Xavier — the Jesuit co-founder, who also was influenced by the earlier Francis. This moves us into the lengthier portion of our discussion of how Pope Francis is motivated by the “way of poverty” and the “way of literalism,” which was central to the lifestyle and mission of Francis of Assisi. We discuss how the pontiff has put this into action, including an interesting observation that the pope does not wear the traditional red leather shoes seen on other pontiffs. Rusty observes that the “monarchical tendencies” of the papacy have gradually been fading away and Pope Francis is taking this one step further.
Our conversation also covers why an “outsider” was chosen as pope this time around and the task of bureaucratic reform that he faces. Rusty speculates that Pope Francis is the “rhetorical bad guy” that is critical of the Curia, and points to the pontiffs Christmas Eve sermon directed at the bureaucracy. Along with these public pronouncements, the pope is working with an inner circle of Cardinals who are doing the grunt work of cleaning up some of the sclerosis and potential puddles of corruption within the organization. Dr. Reno mentions the Vatican Bank as one area where changes have been made. We talk about the task ahead and the challenges of reforming such a large organization that has immense institutional momentum.
Finally, Rusty shares some of his reflections on the future of the Church and Christianity by providing an observation about human nature. Despite the ongoing chase for material well-being, humans seek to free themselves from idols and desire and Pope Francis’s example of living a life closer to God can be inspiring for many around the world. Recorded: December 29, 2014.
R.R. Reno’s blog posts at First Things.
“Pop Francis: Why Everyone Loves the Pope,” by R.R. Reno in Christianity Today (full article requires subscription).
Fighting the Noonday Devil, and Other Essays, Personal and Theological, by R.R. Reno.
Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible, by John O’Keefe and R.R. Reno.
In the Ruins of the Church Sustaining Faith in an Age of Diminished Christianity, by R.R. Reno.
Pope Francis’s Presentation of the Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia (December 22, 2014).
Jim Tonkowich on Converting to Catholicism.
Jeremy Lott on the Religious Newsmakers of 2013.
Jeremy Lott on the Media’s Pope-O-Rama.
James Felak on Picking Pontiffs and Pope Francis I.
James Felak on Pope Pius XII, the Wartime Pontiff.
James Felak on Vatican Council II.
James Felak on John Paul II and Communism.
John M. Sweeney on the Pope Who Quit.
Margarita Mooney on Her Monastic Vacation.
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