Stephen Kent

Having concluded, some with disappointment, that Pope Francis will not change the church’s stance on abortion, same-sex marriage and other issues in the first week of his pontificate, the bulk of the thousands of journalists covering the papal election left the Vatican.

But not without leaving gems such as this one from The Associated Press:

“Pope Francis put his humility on display during his first day as pontiff Thursday, stopping by his hotel to pick up his luggage and pay the bill himself in a decidedly different style of papacy than his tradition-minded predecessor, who tended to stay ensconced in the frescoed halls of the Vatican.”

Isn’t it not humble to display your humility? However, this was not the worst misinterpretation by many who covered the conclave much as they would a Republican or Democrat convention, dealing with front-runners, dark horses and back-room deals.

On the Sunday prior to the conclave, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston gave a homily based on the day’s Gospel reading of the prodigal son, noting how many children of God today leave their father’s house — the church — because of “ignorance, a lack of feeling welcome, negative experiences, scandals, spiritual mediocrity and other reasons.”

“Spiritual mediocrity” is the best and most concise description of the general situation of the church I’ve heard in some time. View this in terms not necessarily of some failing at the top — by a pope, the cardinals and bishops — as much as a failing of the people to appreciate the depth of our faith. We must dwell upon what we have. It takes time and thoughtful prayerful reflection.

Pope Francis will not transform or push legislation through a congress. A leader does not command or direct as much as point out the goal, the objective and then provide the means and assistance for those he is leading to reach that goal. In terms of the church, that is holiness and unity.

Pope Francis is a Jesuit and that will become a great blessing to cure mediocrity. The word mediocre is not in a Jesuit’s vocabulary (and I say this as a “Jesuit boy” from high school through college and graduate school. Mediocrity is not tolerated.).

Pope Francis has been guided for most of his life by Ignatian spirituality at the core of which is finding God in all things. We need to work at it.

In the Spiritual Exercises, the title used by St. Ignatius for his philosophy, exercise is the operative word. It is not enough to recite by rote or read without taking the time to reflect deeply on its meaning.

Those (including the media) who are looking for drastic change are doomed to disappointment.

Jesus did not inspire immediate enthusiasm after his resurrection. His closest followers, some who were on the road to Emmaus, were quite disappointed at the outcome of what once seemed to be a good prospect.

Pope Francis thinks of himself as “a man for others.” This Jesuit motto is more than a style. It is the method of seeing God in all things and living in accordance with that understanding.

Cardinal O’Malley capsulized the problem as spiritual mediocrity.

Pope Francis offered the solution: “The Christian truth is attractive and persuasive because it responds to humanity’s deepest needs.”

We are alleluia people. Let’s act like it.


Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: