‘There’s something about Francis’

Well there’s an eye-catching headline: How Pope Francis awakened the faith of a CNN anchor. The anchor in question is Carol Costello, who currently hosts CNN Newsroom every weekday morning. The opening line is a grabber, too: “I remember the day I stopped praying.”

The day in question came when Costello — born and raised Catholic but, at 27, lapsed — experienced what most folks would agree was a minor slight, a bit of an interpersonal fumble on the part of a parish secretary who clearly was off her game that day. But it came in the context of Costello’s intense grief from the death of her young brother by cancer, and what goes on in the heart and psyche during times like that does not always follow rules of reason and logic. (It reminded me of a wise maxim I occasional mention to my kids and remind myself: “Always be kind — you never know what someone else is going through at a particular moment.”)

A quick Wikipedia check tells me Costello is 53 years old today. So she quit praying over a quarter century ago, and had stopped going to church before that. And now, apparently, she’s doing both again, thanks to Pope Francis.

There’s lots to say and explore about this, of course. But one thing that caught my eye and that I think is well worth mentioning is this: Costello’s account of her return to faith, prayer, and liturgy makes clear that she is not in the least under the impression that Francis has or is trying to change a single doctrine or approve a single act that previously has been considered a sin. She writes: “There is something about Francis that’s reawakened my faith. And it’s not because he opened the floodgates to allow sin in the eyes of the church. He still argues against things I passionately support, but I find myself — like many other lapsed Catholics — enthralled.”

We all — particularly “conservative” Catholics who have been most critical of Francis — should take note. The stirring in Costello’s soul has happened despite this. Francis’s humility and Francis’s tone did the work of evangelization, and it broke through her intellectual differences with him.

This reflects comments I have heard over and over again (often by media commentators): “Francis isn’t changing any doctrine, and yet…” “Francis is a conservative in many ways, and yet…” They belie the empty criticism that Francis is confusing the faithful or approving sin.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, perhaps those who have been making such false accusations should do a little repenting.

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One thought on “‘There’s something about Francis’

  1. God have mercy. This article shook me to the core. While my fancy title at my parish is “Pastoral Associate for Administration” (whatever that means), I am by any other account the parish secretary. Answering the phone and opening the door are my sacred duties, carried out many times a day.

    Not wanting to think the worst, I hope that whoever answered the phone when Carol Costello called was simply having a bad day. However, I can’t help but wonder about “following orders.” I was somewhat urged, and not for the wrong reasons really, to ask people the same question when I started my job and was being trained. Today, 6 1/2 years on, they are words I never use. Oh there are ways of getting to that, and even reasons for it, but never at the outset.

    Yet, I also take calls from people – who have suffered a death, who want to get married, who seek baptism, or simply have some other need – who have been asked the same question. The real question is this – are we all members of the Body of Christ? If that is the case, then “living the question” (thank you Rilke) makes all the difference in the world.

    In 1970, poorly chosen, although well-intended words came to me from an 80-something year old nun. Her intent was not to hurt, but to inform, which as a teacher of the faith she had been doing for most of her life. Sadly, the words were telling me about my recently deceased father, whom I fully believed was with Jesus, was not “allowed” into heaven as a man born Jewish. This is despite my not-Catholic but faithful father being the driving force of us being sewn so tightly into the fabric of the life of that parish. That sent me off for quite awhile.

    Thanks for sharing this; I have seen the link floating around, but did not read it until your blog post showed up. Sorry for the long comment!

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