So – is the pope just media savvy? Or is he the genuine article?
That seems to have been the gist of many news commentaries. And obviously I can’t tell for certain.
What interests me– as a member of an often exploited audience – is that our responses to reports of people doing good things seem to be becoming more cynical. Instead of thinking ‘Here’s someone who slips out from his prepared schedule to go and visit and friend in hospital: good thing’, we now tend to think – or some reports would encourage us to think - ‘Was it a photo op? Was it staged? Was it part of a programmed charm offensive?’
If so, Cardinal Bergoglio – as Pope Francis was a week ago – must have done an awful lot of preparation, motivated by solely by the possibility that he might get the nod from his peers.
I don’t think so. I think rather that we are seeing someone who is a good man. Not perfect, not necessarily someone who is going to be wholly successful, not someone with a snow-white past (do such people exist?) but a man who loves his fellow human beings.
Cut to Worthing.
At a council planning meeting last week, a church representative submitted a plan to convert an industrial unit to a church centre from where, during the week, various community enterprises could operate. During the discussion, one of these projects was described – one that sets out to redistribute furniture free to those who can’t to buy what they need. The question came: ‘How do you manage to give stuff away free?’ And the answer – essentially that Christians enjoy being generous people because they know that God is generous – was greeted with amazement.
OK, I know (and know of) Christians and churches that don’t seem to match up to that. But I’ve learnt that quite often that’s because I don’t know anything about what that church actually does.If I’m not careful, I rush to judgement.
Jesus said that when we act charitably we shouldn’t announce it but simply do it – as simply and undramatically as possible. God sees, he said, and God will know how best to respond to your generosity. The Bible actually states very clearly that you and I tend to judge people by what we can see (the outside of someone) but God judges them by what’s going on in their hearts (what’s on the inside).
This all ties up with the ongoing revelations about paedophilia amongst Catholic priests. I hope very much that the pope can set an entirely new standard of conduct for ministers. For one thing, he needs to remind them that our sins do become known sooner or later.
We’ll be hearing a lot more about good things and bad things the pope is supposed to have done. It’s hard for someone in his position to hide his actions. But even so, I expect he’ll manage to be generous to others in ways that we won’t see.
He seems to realise that he’s answerable neither to the media nor to us, the public.
But he is answerable to God.
By Nigel O’Dwyer, who leads Goring New Life Church, and lives and works in Worthing.