The Tale of Three Popes: Pope Francis, Justice, and Temperance

I love Pope Francis. I love Pope Francis so much, I’ve marked my calendar for the day of his visit to the United States. I’m counting down the days until that day comes and still want to go to World Youth Day in Poland.

So far, in the past few years, Pope Francis has shown himself to be a pastoral pope, in the sense that he treats the whole world as a parish. If Pope John Paul II was a pope of fortitude and Pope Benedict was a pope of prudence, Pope Francis is a pope of justice and a man who can inspire us to practice the virtue of temperance.

Justice isn’t always about superheroes and lawyers. According to the Catechism:

Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. the just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” (CCC 1807)

Pope Francis chose his name to remember the poor. He visited towns and countries where poverty is prominent. He is open to meeting anyone who asks and doesn’t care what people think. He’s talks about the current issues, but refuses to get political about them, although that might change when he gets an audience with the US Congress. He advocates for peace during times of war, but acknowledges that the danger does exist. He cares for the world and has compassion for everyone.

So what does Pope Francis have to do with temperance? Well, it’s more that we should practice temperance when it comes to him. The major problem with Pope Francis isn’t with the man himself, but with everyone having an extreme opinion of him. The media spins him to be this borderline liberal while conservatives buy into that lie and say that the apocalypse is coming and the Catholic Church is going to become modernized. According to the Catechism:

Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. the temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.”72 Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.”73 In the New Testament it is called “moderation” or “sobriety.”  (CCC 1809)

Temperance is usually associated with moderation of food and drink, but in the case of Pope Francis, I think we should exercise temperance of the tongue. We need to master our paranoia and fears of the Catholic Church becoming something it’s not. Most of all, we shouldn’t gossip or start creating conspiracy theories.

I think it’s been a long time since the world had a pope who was so bluntly honest about everything. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict both chose their worlds carefully and thoughtfully. Pope Francis is more of an improv actor, speaking in idioms and off-the-cuff remarks. He’s basically like a bartender: open to serve, a great listener, and honest to a fault.

Whenever I hear the panic of Pope Francis having an audience with someone people consider to be scandalous or “not belonging in society,” I recall the Pharisees judging Jesus for hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes. I remember that instead of choosing the best and brightest of his society, Jesus picked 12 clueless morons with working-class jobs that always argued with each other. Mostly, I recall the parable of the Good Shepherd.

One part of being pope is that the pope is an example of Christ on Earth. And like Jesus, Pope Francis is reaching out to all the lost sheep of the world as a form of justice. However, this justice is not in the form of punishment or condemnation, but of mercy and compassion in the hopes that they will bring themselves to God and that God will change them.

I hope that we can all practice the virtue of temperance in our lives, especially when it comes to our opinions.

Le_Bon_Pasteur_Philippe_de_Champaigne

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