Two popes compared
Pope Benedict was — is — a teacher of great depth. I love reading his books, and his homilies. Reading Ratzinger is hard work, but always rewarding.
Pope Francis has a very different style. A very distinctive style. Reading Lumen fidei, it’s easy to distinguish Francis’ pen from Benedict’s. Consider, for example, section 57. I suspect Benedict wrote the first two paragraphs, while the third paragraph was written by Francis. The styles and content are contrasting:
57. Nor does the light of faith make us forget the sufferings of this world. How many men and women of faith have found mediators of light in those who suffer! So it was with Saint Francis of Assisi and the leper, or with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her poor. They understood the mystery at work in them. In drawing near to the suffering, they were certainly not able to eliminate all their pain or to explain every evil. Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see the light within it. Christ is the one who, having endured suffering, is “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Heb 12:2)
Suffering reminds us that faith’s service to the common good is always one of hope — a hope which looks ever ahead in the knowledge that only from God, from the future which comes from the risen Jesus, can our society find solid and lasting foundations. In this sense faith is linked to hope, for even if our dwelling place here below is wasting away, we have an eternal dwelling place which God has already prepared in Christ, in his body. (cf. 2 Cor 4:16-5:5) The dynamic of faith, hope and charity (cf. 1 Th 1:3; 1 Cor 13:13) thus leads us to embrace the concerns of all men and women on our journey towards that city “whose architect and builder is God,” (Heb 11:10) for “hope does not disappoint.” (Rom 5:5)
In union with faith and charity, hope propels us towards a sure future, set against a different horizon with regard to the illusory enticements of the idols of this world yet granting new momentum and strength to our daily lives. Let us refuse to be robbed of hope, or to allow our hope to be dimmed by facile answers and solutions which block our progress, “fragmenting” time and changing it into space. Time is always much greater than space. Space hardens processes, whereas time propels towards the future and encourages us to go forward in hope.
Speaking personally, I don’t think Francis’ writing is as elegant nor as compelling as Benedict’s. But boy can he preach! I’ve said before that John Paul II was the television pope, Benedict was the Internet pope, and Francis is the Twitter pope.
Francis excels at memorable turns of phrase which are ideally suited to Twitter. But of course their natural home is in the preached word. Francis not only keeps his listeners’ attention, but he also makes points which listeners will recall and (hopefully) interiorise well after he has finished speaking.
Observe this address to seminarians and novices, which I think resonates very deeply: