While Pope Francis may not hold a candle to the reprobate popes of the Renaissance, he has certainly brought new implications to the cliché, “Is the pope Catholic?” Whether intentional or not, Francis is carving out a peculiar place for himself in papal history as the pontiff who threw the Church on her head—and not as it was in the execution of the first pope. What sort of tumbling act Pope Francis is performing remains to be seen.
Being Catholic has never been a straightforward affair, but the agonies and ecstasies caused by this “last called” of Christ may find tempering in the blessings of the “first called” of Christ, St. Andrew, whose feast day is celebrated today. There is no better time to invoke the guidance of the apostles than in a time of apostolic confusion.
And well should we look to the clarity of Andrew’s life, we who weary of giving Francis the benefit of the doubt ad nauseum (pardon my Latin). Though we may struggle to believe that such a Vicar of Christ could exist, like St. Thomas, many feel their hands engulfed in a problem that’s difficult to doubt. And while we ought to refrain from frothy-mouthed headhunting, it is our duty to call a spade a spade with clarity and charity—and that goes for the pope as well.
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Now, Francis may be acting and speaking against what he sees as the backward sickness of nostalgia infecting conservative, moralistic, breeding-like-rabbits Catholics; but the strange spin he gives to doctrinal principles and societal issues, as he speaks out of both sides of his mouth, often leaves truth out of charity. And charity without truth is not charity.
There was that bothersome head-scratcher in a documentary earlier this year where Pope Francis told a transgender person that “God loves us as we are.” True…but what does he mean by that? God loves us despite our unlovable sins—but not as sinners, sinfulness and sins and all. But something like that false interpretation is up for grabs, especially with all the “inclusive” and “diverse” efforts afoot to fit and force behaviors the Church rightly rejects into the fold. Why be ambiguous when ambiguity is so clearly destroying lives and souls?
Then there’s his recent propositions permitting the baptism of transgender people and their serving as godparents, so long as it does not cause scandal or disorientation to the faithful (which is scandalous and disorienting in itself as a statement). Here again, in characteristic fashion, Francis approves of a wildly improbable hypothetical that would, if ever done, very likely affirm falsehood and impede the metaphysical effect of the Sacrament, but all for the sake of sending a message of love—but on whose terms? And with what conditions? But who are we to judge (to dust off a mic-dropping classic)?
For rock-solid steadfastness and stirring bravery, St. Andrew is an apostle for our age. While his fisherman brother, Peter, was dangled on a cross upside down, Andrew, meaning “manly and brave,” was stretched out to die on an x-shaped cross. St. Andrew’s cross is a further variation of the gibbet the Son of God made sacred, teaching us all to find our own perhaps crooked, perhaps crazy ways of participating in that Act of divine sacrifice and redemption—a cross that Pope Francis may be carrying, despite the rising tides of schism.
After being shaken from staring into the sky after the Lord, Andrew took up the Gospel with as much zeal as he set down his fishing nets. He set off through the province of Scythia as a fisher of men, preaching to foreigners in foreign lands despite danger and difficulty. Andrew offered the good news of Christ and His baptism wherever he went, but too often he found eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear. Repulsed in his mission again and again, Andrew went on and on all along the coast of the Black Sea, courageous and resilient in his fiery faith. And to those who received Andrew and his word, he brought peace, truth, and healing of body and spirit.
Andrew’s road carried him to Achaea, in Greece, where he went about converting the people and building churches. He went so far as to baptize the wife of the local provost, Aegeus, who was angered by this outrage and immediately went to the town of Patras to reinforce the devotions to a breed of conquered gods. But instead of finding terrified subjects, Aegeus found Andrew. The apostle greeted him unflinchingly, saying that since Aegeus was a judge, it behooved him to know the Almighty Judge. Furthermore, since to know Him was to worship Him, Andrew commanded Aegeus to abandon the idols already abandoned by the people.
But Aegeus accused Andrew of being the one enamored of a false god, one denied and disproven by the highest Roman authorities. Andrew did not mince words when he retorted that the devil had those princes in his power, compelling them to honor blocks of wood, stone, and metal while clothing them in nothing but the nakedness of sin. Aegeus remarked this was a foolish counter for one whose God was fool enough to be nailed naked to a tree. If Andrew was so devoted to the Cross, he concluded, then he should have a cross of his own. After being beaten by two dozen men, Andrew was stretched out across beams shaped in an X as the people rushed through the streets crying that an innocent man was being murdered by the provost.
But though the people objected, Andrew commanded them to hold off as he hung in torment for three days. As he was dying, legend has it he preached the Faith to twenty thousand who gathered to witness his martyrdom. As the crowd grumbled for Aegeus’ death over this injustice, Aegeus appeared. He fell to his knees before Andrew, full of remorse, and ordered the victim released. But Andrew gave his own order that he remain on his cross. Those present drew back as a blinding light fell from heaven around the saint, giving Andrew glory and peace as he, as the Son had done, committed his spirit into the Father’s hands.
In Andrew’s story, the faithful can still hear Andrew’s cry, “We have found the Messiah!” leading us along the path of truth and love. And it is this call of the First-Called that we recall as Advent begins and we rise to find Christ in our own lives and in our neighbors, reciting in our anticipation the beautiful St. Andrew Prayer:
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
in which the Son of God was born
of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold.
In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee,
O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires
through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ,
and of His blessed Mother.
To those who, in a spirit of penance and praise, recite this meditation 15 times every day from November 30 to Christmas Day, special favors, even miracles, are granted by the apostle saint who embraced his cross to follow Christ. And the clarity of this call out of the depths resonates with the clarity of St. Andrew’s apostleship—a clarity that Catholics require from time to time.
Although Pope Francis may be vaguely and incoherently trying to affirm Magisterial teaching, his messaging is, without doubt, mixed in these midnight days. What is the message in Pope Francis appointing Mariana Mazzucato, a dedicated pro-abortion economist, to the Pontifical Academy for Life? What is his signal in honoring Fr. James Martin and his blatant homosexual agenda at the bizarre Synod on Synodality? What is he saying when he strikes down the beloved bishop of Tyler, Texas, Joseph Strickland— without due process of Canon Law—after that bishop criticized the confusions of this papacy as undermining the deposit of the Faith? What can we conclude when Pope Francis calls Cardinal Burke, another venerable critic, his “enemy” and strips him of his Vatican residence and pension?
One message that rings loud and clear is that Catholics must stand their ground like martyrs in the face of confusion from within, persecution from within, and the apparent Catholic tolerance of sin, and to be, as best as we can, apostolic when the head apostle is failing to be apostolic. “It is now the hour for us to rise from sleep,” St. Paul thunders as Advent comes in the piercing cold of trying to merge Catholic dogma and Catholic tradition with rainbow-colored Enlightenment values and guilt-wringing liberalism. The result is a glaring contradiction that Catholics cannot ignore or popesplain away. One message that rings loud and clear is that Catholics must stand their ground like martyrs in the face of confusion from within, persecution from within, and the apparent Catholic tolerance of sin.Tweet This
The Cross of Christ, however, has been called a cosmic contradiction—where the sharp intersection of two lines forms a crisis of collision with arms that extend to the four corners of the world—and in that mystery of contradiction, there may yet be hope for Pope Francis and his legacy of contradiction. Paradox is inseparable from the Faith. After all, there is a way in which we are blessed to live in times of persecution as that is what Our Lord foretold for us and, through which, He promised our beatitude.
These are paradoxes that only faith, hope, and charity can reconcile, even as they reconcile the puzzlements of salvation, such as a Virgin giving birth, or God becoming Man, or a lowly fisherman exalted as the First-Called of Christ. This Advent, pray the St. Andrew Prayer for Pope Francis, for the Church, and for all confused, clarity-craving Catholics.