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Feast of the Miraculous Medal

Last night I was listening to NPR on my way home from work, and they had a piece about the escalating problems in the Central African Republic.  There is all kinds of awfulness going on there – widespread mayhem, violence, rapes, and possible genocide.  Anyone who tries to speak out or stand in the way of the various groups who are running rampant is getting killed.  The first soundbite of the piece was from a Catholic priest, Fr. Frederic Tonfio, who is sheltering a couple thousand people at the Catholic mission there, giving them refuge in the most old fashioned sense of the word.  When I heard him speak, I immediately felt so proud of him, and proud to be Catholic, proud that in a place that is approaching hell on earth, we have people who are promoting heaven.  I do not know if there is anything I can do for him at this point besides pray.  Things are so unsteady that he may have already become one of our newest martyrs.  But I am grateful for him, and grateful for his presence there.

Then today I saw a news story about Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).  The quotes in the story were interesting enough that I downloaded the document itself to read later (for some reason I think I might have a little reading time coming up).  Just scanning through the subtitles and getting a gist of the document made me so, so happy, and so glad to be alive and Catholic at this particular point in human history.  I did not think that it was possible to love a Pope more than I loved John Paul II, but Francis is giving him a serious run for his money.

I think the reason why I love Francis is because he is so completely Catholic in such a way that the world does not know how to handle him or label him.  It was easy to label JP II as the charismatic world traveling statesman who helped bring down Communism, and was hopelessly Conservative.  Benedict VI was even easier to dismiss as the reactionary traditionalist who might (horrors!) bring back the Latin Mass.  But Francis is Catholic.  Just Catholic.  He’s not Conservative, he’s not Liberal, he’s Catholic.  The labels and the pigeonholes don’t work, because he’s Catholic.  He says both that abortion is wrong, and that people are more important than money.  He says that people should learn the Faith through “the way of beauty,” and also that women’s ordination is never going to happen.

The things he says make people sit up and pay attention, make them actually listen to what the Pope is saying instead of just writing it off as more religious mumbo jumbo from someone who you think you already know what they’re going to say.  If you have actually been paying attention to Catholic teaching over the last, oh, two thousand years, you would know that nothing he’s saying is new.  In fact, quite a lot is almost exactly the same things his two predecessors said.  The difference is that now people are actually listening.

Beyond the deep enjoyment I get from watching mainstream media try to figure out what to do with this guy, I love Francis because he is Catholic in the same way that I want to be Catholic.  A long time ago I figured out that if I was going to be Catholic, truly Catholic in every area of my life, I wasn’t going to fit in with any political party that existed.  I have never been able to vote for a Presidential candidate I could fully support.  I don’t fit neatly into any of the boxes.  I’m Catholic, not Republican, not Democrat, not anything.  Just Catholic.  Like Francis.  His encyclical made me nearly cry tears of joy because here was something that showed the kind of being Catholic that I have always wanted to be.

Today I am so proud to be Catholic.