There I was trying to mind my own business enjoying the coffee and the customary treat, the caramel shortbread, not quite of the standard that my Mama used to make, but not bad at all, and it happened. Once again I had an encounter with someone who seemed compelled to tell me about their reservations about Pope Francis. This is now a pretty regular occurrence. Sometimes I see it coming, a furrowed brow, a slightly darkening countenance or a hushed whisper as I am spotted. On other occasions it’s a veritable ambush, intentional or otherwise.

Please don’t misunderstand me people are of course entitled to their views and I am genuinely happy to have the exchange but I find myself a little bemused. First of all I am surprised by the heat in these occasions. Clearly Francis stirs up strong feelings. I can understand this. I love him so much. I understand people expressing reservation nay even fear about ‘where he might be leading us’ and of course hot button topics like the ordination of women and the blessing of same sex couples will always engender an array of opinion. What surprises me is how vicious it is, and indeed how quickly it becomes so. Before we know it we have moved from a fairly tepid dislike, coupled with apparently mild disapproval, to the most incredible denunciation and questioning, not only of papal authority, but even a suggestion that the present Holy Father is not really the pope at all! Now whilst I am not easily shaken I find myself flabbergasted. What became of the tried and tested maxim, play the ball not the man? By all means don’t like him. Don’t send him a Christmas card. Take issue with some of the things he has said, but to suggest he’s not the real pope! I mean some go further and suggest darker forces are afoot. One gentleman recently said to me ‘I fear there’s an imposter in the Vatican! ‘ To which I replied, ‘just one?’ ‘ What do you mean? ‘ came the startled reply. I went on to explain that it was most likely, given human nature’s track record,  that there will always be a few imposters skirting round the hallowed corridors. My friend took this on board but left me abruptly when I suggested that whatever number of said imposters there were,  I was very clear none of them are called Francis.

So what is going on? Let’s park the holy tabloid type hyperbole of schism and split. Let’s not feed the dark forces. There’s no shortage of Voldemortians. Apocalypse Now! For some, Halloween has come early.  The draw to the ghoulish amazes me.

True followers of Jesus are called to something different and this is most especially true at the time of Synod.

Call me old fashioned, predictable, but I am crystal clear, I am sticking with Jesus. He is our sure Hope. The Jesus revealed to us in Sacred Scripture, most especially in the Four Gospels. The historical Jesus yes, but the Risen Lord, the Cosmic Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity. This is what I respectfully nudge you towards. So much else is dross.

At the moment the Church is in special listening mode. Synod is a time of deep listening. We have in Francis the one chosen by God’s Holy Spirit to lead us in these days. These are special days of grace for the Church. Let’s get serious about our part. Let’s increase our time alone with the Lord. Let’s pray that we will have the courage necessary to open up our hearts to the Lord, speaking to us in our beloved Pope and the Synod. The listening we are called to as part of the Synodal way is not a passive but rather an Advent-like ‘girding our loins’ filled with Hope and braced for praxis. This hope is not vague nor is it rooted in some nebulous it will be alright on the night. Rather our hope is in Jesus, the Risen Lord.

Yes there’s an imposter in the Vatican alright and he has been known by many names. Whatever about his name know that he thrives on fear, on half truths, he is the enemy of the Gospel and both thrives on deceit, and promotes it. This is the evil spirit. Ever present. Always defeated by God.

All that said, regardless of our viewpoint on the Church, the Synod has caused all of us to wonder about where we are going? For us here in Ireland there remains considerable uncertainty. Whilst  there remains much to concern us there is hope. This is a living tangible hope. For all of us who are trying to remain faithful to sowing the seeds of the kingdom, we have great expectations of the post Synodal Church.

It is going to take a lot of courageous leadership to actively build the new entity.

In fairness some of this is beyond our control. The tired, over-worked older priests that continue, in the main, to heroically serve will gradually diminish. The issue of the role of women is being watched with considerable anticipation. I was asked this very week, did I think I would see the ordination of women, to which I answered no. However the next question which was why not, is a very important one. I have heard many answers to this question.

For me the reason why that day will not come, is that us crusty old celibates are frightened of what that mean. Furthermore that fear is so ingrained, I fear we might prefer to die. This brings us back to that old Imposter who is always happy in a climate of fear.

JMCD       24. 10. 23


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