Father Eugene Hemrick

The saying, “you can’t make everyone happy,” is especially true of the remarks made about Pope Francis’ recent visit to Brazil to celebrate World Youth Day.

Many praised him for being down to earth, humble and a breath of fresh air. And then there were others who criticized him for not saying more on women’s issues and questioned whether he was all talk and no action. One went so far as to say that his remark about not judging gays is nothing new and that multiple Christians have said as much through the ages.

The pros and cons that followed Francis’ visit confirm that we, like generations before us, live in contentious times. How might we react to these moments of contention?

Being matter of fact might be one course of action to take, not letting our emotions come to a boil and allowing ourselves to concede that conflicting opinions are part of our times. We live in a new age of instant communication that encourages people to air their opinions instantly, be they ever so varied. We’re in an age of heightened awareness about human rights in which more people are speaking out against violations.

It is true that Catholicism has detractors who are forever seeking something negative to say. It is equally true that they have existed from the beginning of the church and will always be part of its history. One positive way to react to this is to examine their comments, to learn whether some of them can teach the church better ways of practicing the new evangelization and help to convert naysayers.

I must admit, when I read some of the negative comments about Pope Francis, I was angry. But then the thought hit me, “What would Christ say about this?” I believe he would have several different reactions.

To those championing human rights, he would say: “Be true to your convictions, listen to your heart rather than the crowds, and purify your convictions continuously!” To detractors of the church, he would say: “How do you see the church? Is it as cathedrals, a bureaucracy and self-serving, selfish people, or do you see it as the people of God serving others because of their love of God? Have you dared to let this goodness and love touch you?”

To those of us who are the church, he would say: “As I taught my apostles, there are difficulties in proclaiming me. This is the reality of being an apostle.”