OUR STORY …
Herman was in Bishop Bob’s study when the call came in. It was actually a ping sound on the Bishop’s laptop, signaling that he was being invited to a video conference call. It was from the Vatican, so naturally, it immediately captured Bishop Bob’s attention. He had a few friends at the Vatican, but communicating with the Vatican was not an everyday experience for the old bishop.
Herman, the Bishop’s Cathedral mouse, jokingly asked if Bishop Bob was expecting a call from Pope Francis. They both laughed as Bishop Bob accepted the call. The two friends were shocked when the computers connected. There in front of them on the screen really was Pope Francis. And he started talking with Bishop Bob as if he were an old friend.
The Pope had called to congratulate Bishop Bob on a life of service to God and to his people. And he seemed sincere when he asked the bishop what he was planning to do with himself when he retired. Bishop Bob’s reply triggered a response, however, that neither Herman nor the bishop could possibly have anticipated.
When the bishop had jokingly suggested that he might spend some of his free time at the Vatican hanging out with the pope and the cardinals, Pope Francis pushed back a bit. He said it was a very bad time to visit Rome, and COVID was not the reason. Something even more sinister, more contagious, and more dangerous than a pandemic was at play here.
Pope Francis told the bishop and his Cathedral mouse that the unprecedented rise of bad media was of grave concern to him. According to the Holy Father, bad media and the lies that were spread by those who listened to it had been very damaging to the Church in recent years. And then the Pope dropped a real bomb into the conversation.
The Pope told Bishop Bob that there was an old rule-of-thumb that people who specialized in propaganda used. It says, if you tell a lie enough times, it becomes the truth. And that’s what really bothered the Pope.
When Catholics repeat the lies and distortions from bad media about the Pope, bishops, or priests on social media enough times, it starts to sound like truth to the world. And when folks are thinking about faith and becoming Catholic, these lies can be very destructive.
Bishop Bob agreed that fake news stories about the Pope and the Church were damaging, but the worst part was when priests or religious people repeated them. He had heard of one priest recently who even said from the pulpit during mass that Pope Francis was a bad pope.
Pope Francis was not the kind of man to beat a dead horse, as the old saying goes, so he went back to his favorite role, that of pastor and shepherd. Rather than persist in the many accusations, he decided to dig down into what he believed was the real root cause.
He told his friends in Chucktown that people just don’t read like they once did. These days, there are otherwise very intelligent people who have not read a complete book in years. And when they don’t read for themselves, they end up believing what others say — which very often turns out to be inaccurate at best.
The pope offered some examples that impacted him personally. Talking heads on social media had accused him of being the head of a cabal of gay cardinals who promoted homosexual activities within the Church. And even though Pope Francis had been faithful to his vow of chastity for many decades, when the fans of social media read this stuff, they began to believe it.
And once they believed that about the Holy Father, it wasn’t hard to believe the other accusations of his stealing money from the Vatican bank (which would have been against his vow of poverty that he had faithfully kept for as many decades). And then there were those who said Francis was going to let women become priests. And they even said he had organized the Amazon synod last year to make it okay for priests to get married. Of course, not of that happened, but it didn’t stop the talking heads from bloviating.
But worse still was the damage these talking heads on social media were doing to a brilliant, energetic, teaching bishop from out west. They sullied his reputation, saying with great authority that the bishop was having homosexual relationships with his priest friends. Conveniently, nobody ever questioned how these accusers could have known what the bishop and his friends were doing behind closed doors unless they were involved too. The accusers didn’t really care about any of that. They just relied on their lies to become the truth after it was repeated and retweeted often enough. They also trusted that the faithful bishop was too holy of a man to ever sue them for defamation of character.
As Poppa spoke, Herman remembered that, in the Bible, it was Satan who was called the Accuser. It seemed to Herman that the accusers of this age had to be the children of Satan, whether they were priests, scholars, journalists or everyday people in local parishes. But hey, what did Herman know? He was just a lowly Cathedral mouse.
That’s when Poppa got to the real point. What was going on was classic “good vs. evil.” And the greatest weapon available to the Church today to fight evil is God’s unlimited Divine Mercy, which we find in the blood of Jesus Christ.
The last three popes had all been Divine Mercy popes. That made all three of them enemies of Satan. They tried to murder Jon Paul II. And those who are deceived by Satan today join the Accuser in his deadly game of accusations.
Pope Francis went so far as to tell Bishop Bob that if a Catholic really wanted to make sure his or her fellow Catholics were on the right path, he should catechize rather than criticize.
When Bishop Bob asked the pontiff what the solution was, Francis really surprised everyone. He said it was POLKA. That’s really what he said, and if the media or it’s social media parrots had heard him say that, they would have had a field day with all the stories they might have imagined from that response.
Of course, Pope Francis really could’ve cared less about dancing. His point was that people at polka events smile and laugh a lot. They are happy and have fun with each other. Old people and young people dance together. Men, women and children dance together too. Most of them are not particularly good dancers, but they really are quite good at loving each other and having fun together. They rejoice in the music!
IT IS WRITTEN …
That’s about the time the old Pope brought Bishop Bob and Herman back to the topic of Divine Mercy. He reminded them that Jesus said He would build His Church and He would protect it too (Matt 16:18). So in Francis’ mind, it comes down to whether you believe Jesus can be trusted to keep His word. If so, He doesn’t need Catholics criticizing His Church. He needs us praying and catechizing.
The Holy Father closed by asking his two friends whether they could say everyday, “Jesus, I trust in you!”
LIFE GOES ON …
Like so many others, Bishop Bob had not always been happy with Pope Francis’ positions on how the Church should respond to the cultures around us. But after rereading his writings like “The Joy of the Gospel,” “The Face of Mercy,” “The Light of Faith,” and “The Joy of Love,” he knew that Pope Francis’ heart was all about God’s great love and Divine Mercy.
If the old Pope had one flaw, it was that he couldn’t seem to understand why more people didn’t have a heart for Divine Mercy. After all, in these darks and evil times, God’s mercy is needed more than ever.
By the time their conversation ended, Bishop Bob had decided that the theme for his retirement would be prayer. He would pray for the Pope and for other Church leaders, knowing they would come under attack in the mainstream media and social media the more they preached mercy as a central theme of the Gospel.
That’s our story and we’re sticking to it. It’s cool to be Catholic.