From the Archives:
The Wizard of Oz is a pretty smart book because the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion show three traits we need to be complete. If you only had a head, a heart and courage. It occurred to me some time ago that the three popes illustrate what we need, the church needs and the world needs.
What was the first thing Pope St .John Paul the Great said on the balcony? “Do not be afraid!” He’s the man of courage–the not cowardly lion. Throughout his papacy he exhibited this great and fearless fortitude–whether it was his triumphant pastoral visits to Poland, his ceaseless travels around the world, his confrontation of heresy and disloyalty, his survival of an assassination attempt or his final, courageous battle with Parkinson’s–played out in public–John Paul was the pope of courage.
Benedict XVI is the pope with the brain. First in the background as the theologian and Bible scholar in chief, and then stepping into the shoes of John Paul to lead the church with continued teaching, writing and thinking. With his precision of thought and clarity of expression he articulated the fullness of Catholic teaching, liturgy and practice.
Now Francis picks up the keys and his constant theme is one of pastoral love and passion for Christ and his people. Notice that the three characters stick together and balance one another. The love Francis shows is mere sentimentality without the intellectual teaching of Benedict and it is weak compromise without the courage of John Paul.
It is natural for us to incline toward one pope more than another because of our own personality types. Benedict XVI is my favorite because guess what? I’m like him. I’m bookish. I’m a Benedictine oblate. I understand and promote fine liturgy, good music and I like clear thought and a solid articulation of the faith. Others may warm more to John Paul because they are men and women of action and courage in the world. Others will gravitate to Francis because they have a Franciscan spirituality, they are people people and they go with their heart even if that means that life is sometimes messy and imprecise.
While this is true, it is also true that we need to get out of our comfort zone and learn to love and appreciate the ones of the three that do not appeal to us.
That’s where we grow–not by staying where we’re comfortable. The loving, kind pastoral people who would love people so much that they compromise the truth and take the way of least resistance need to get some intellectual hard edged content to the faith and some courage to stand up for what’s right–not only what feels good.
Those who incline toward the Benedictine strengths of beauty and intellectual clarity need to remember the heart. It’s about people, people! It’s about love and love is messy and imprecise. Love is full of suffering and triumph and emotion and joy and sorrow and that’s not precise and predictable. They also need to get out of their study, out of their head and out of their beautiful liturgy which is all well and good, and find some courage and active involvement in the world. They need to step up and step out and learn how to take charge and use all their intellect and love of beauty to make the world a smarter and more beautiful place.
Those lions among us who are all action and accomplishment–those warriors for the faith need to remember the virtues of compassion and concern. They need not only courage but a suffering and sacrificial heart. They also need to stop in their campaign in order to read, contemplate and appreciate the quiet beauties of the world and so grow a heart and a head to go with their indomitable courage.
In my experience we all prefer one of the three–head, heart or courage and we also instinctively dislike one of the three. The problem we have is opening up and taking the risk to love and appreciate the one of the three that we find most disagreeable. Me? I’m Head with Courage as my second and Heart the one I find difficult. What about you? This self analysis will help me not only to know my strength, but also to know my growth point. This is why I am finding Francis a challenge. He’s the heart pope and I don’t like the messiness of his off the cuff comments. I want the intellectual precision and clarity of Benedict–but this is exactly where I find my growth point.
The beauty of God’s providence in these three popes is that they are showing the church, the world and each of us the balance and beauty of following Christ for he alone is the one who perfectly balances the head, the heart and the courage to live. He is smart and learned and loves beauty. He is a fearless fighter even unto death, and he is the compassionate pastor and lover of souls.
So take a moment and think it through and see which one of the three you lack–a brain, a heart or courage–and get going on the long journey to find it, for it is on the journey that you will develop that gift and grow in the grace of God into the full stature of the humanity and divinity of Christ.