An odd kind of irrelevance

The latest incident of people working so very hard to take a few words of Pope Francis and make them into what they apparently want him to have said, without reference to what the Church teaches, has me thinking.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

This happens a lot, with every pope. Sometimes it’s to make the pope look bad, like with Pope Benedict XVI at Regensberg. Other times it’s to try to find evidence the pope is going to do the impossible and overturn some Church teaching, or to try to drum up some narrative about a conflict between one pope and previous popes. Sometimes it’s in search of something to rub in the face of Catholics who believe the Church’s teaching. The agendas are all too familiar.

In this case maybe it’s even cause for hope. If learning what Christianity has always taught — that Christ died for everyone — is joyful news to a bunch of people estranged from Christ, that suggests an opening of grace. Praise God!

But the striking fact is this: Those of us who believe Catholic teaching are constantly told that the pope doesn’t matter.

“He’s just some old, celibate guy in Rome! Even most Catholics don’t listen to him. The world has moved on! Get with the times!”

Isn’t that the constant refrain? Isn’t that what we heard ad nauseum all through the papal conclave? And yet here is the world, months later, not just interested even in the Holy Father’s daily Mass homilies but parsing his words, spinning them, straining over them. Even twisting them is still a very different thing from ignoring them. Only words that actually matter are worth twisting.

Interesting, isn’t it? I think that is also cause for hope.