Pope Francis and the Eye of the Tiger

Pope Francis pets a tiger during the Jubilee for Circuses in the Pope Paul VI Hall on June 16, 2016.
Pope Francis pets a tiger during the Jubilee for Circuses in the Pope Paul VI Hall on June 16, 2016. (photo: Photo Credit: © L'Osservatore Romano)

The recent L'Osservatore Romano photo of Pope Francis and a tiger peaceably regarding each other almost needs no caption.

In fact, there was no explanation for it other than it being snapped at a blessing Francis gave to street performers in Rome. As a magician, my ears were immediately burning but this time, not as a part of my stage act.

Francis praised entertainers, calling them "artisans" of celebration, wonder, joy and beauty, and encouraging them to be evangelizers who transmit God's love. Pope Francis reminded the assembled performers, and their friendly tiger, that bringing beauty and joy to a sometimes gloomy and sad world is also an act of mercy. In his own words, Francis perfectly reflected the spirituality of joy of St. John Bosco, the patron saint of stage magicians.

The frisson this Francis/tiger image engendered, equal in impact to the élan the Pope creates among many in the Church or perhaps the horreur, in some strange quarters, perfectly encapsulates the Pope's precarious position.

Even if God Himself had chosen me as pope, which is increasingly unlikely, I wouldn’t take the job. I feel sorry for anyone upon whom the position was thrusted—let alone those crass enough to intentionally seek out the job, as in the case of the medieval so-called "secular popes."

I've always believed, unpopularly, that lay people should keep their mouths shut if all they've got to say is something negative about the Church or its leaders. I'm not referring, of course, to legitimate complaints such as concerns about pedophilia or stifling clericalism—but instead, when it comes to dogmatic theology, especially moral theology.

They should at least think twice. And, then, think once again before. Discretion is the better part of wisdom. After all, even fools may be thought wise and intelligent if they stay quiet and keep their mouths shut. (Proverbs 17:28)

I don’t like it when people badmouth popes. I don't like the criticism levied against Francis for supposedly being "too liberal" just as I didn't like it when know-nothings called Benedict or St. John Paul "too conservative." These words hurt us all, especially the speaker.

It takes a great deal (or perhaps very little effort at all) for anyone to take a stand against the pope and God's One True, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and speak with the benefit of neither rational thought nor Christian compassion.

It's what I call "backseat pontificating."

These thoughtless complaints are qualitatively no different from when Susan Sarandon called Pope Benedict a "Nazi" in 2011. Even the Anti-Defamation League (ad meah v'ersrim shanah!), which fights anti-Semitism, called on Sarandon to apologize for her ignorance and hatred.

Or when crackpot Sinéad O'Connor ripped up a photo of St. John Paul on Saturday Night Live on October 12, 1992.

Or John Cornwell's 1999 pot-stirrer Hitler's Pope, bereft both of fact or logic, which falsely villainized Pope Pius XII.

Or when ol' Madonna insulted Pope Francis during her Rebel Heart Tour in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Or when Donald Trump threatened to "scare" the Pope when he came to the US in September 2015 or when he admonished Francis for his very Christian views on immigration in February 2016.

Or when Ann Coulter says her most recent nativist, anti-Catholic, ahistorical, racist, political indecorous, anti-intellectual rant about our current pope, or indeed, any pope. In other words―whenever she opens her mouth.

Or when ISIS threatens to kill the "Pope of the Crusaders."

Or when President Obama invited several opponents of Catholic teaching to greet Pope Francis on his 2015 visit to the White House—including gay, divorced Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson, and confused, cross-dressing Mateo Williamson, former co-chairman of the Transgender Caucus for Dignity USA, who may or may not be gay depending upon when you ask her. This rogues’ gallery was augmented with a pro-abortion religious sister and at least two other Catholic gay activists. Pity that Catholic League's Bill Donohue (Go mbeannaí Dia duit!) wasn't invited―I would have loved to have had the popcorn concession at that fight.

This dreck is just the modernist continuation of the Black Legend first stared by Protestants in the 16th century.

St. Cyprian, in his Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer reminds us:

God bids us to be peace-loving, harmonious and of one mind in His house; He wants us to live with the new life He gave us at our second birth. As sons of God, we are to abide in peace; as we have one Spirit, we should be one in mind and heart. Thus God does not receive the sacrifice of one who lives in conflict, and He orders us to turn back from the altar and be first reconciled with our brother, that God too may be appeased by the prayers of one who is at peace. The greatest offering we can make to God is our peace, harmony among fellow Christians, a people united with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Nn. 23-24: CSEL 3, 284-285)

Just because you've got people applauding your remarks means nothing. Anyone who speaks without the benefit of thought can similarly rouse a crowd. What you should be worried about is whether or not God is applauding.

I don't say this to lambast or to judge others who disagree with me as my sins are more than sufficiently scarlet all on my own. However, I am allowed to judge bad behavior and, if I weren’t, it would only be because others are similarly forbidden from judging others as well. What's sauce for the goose tastes just as delicious when served with gander.

In Rocky III, heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa is challenged and insulted by Clubber Lang, a boxer who "really knows what's going on." Rocky agrees to fight him but is soundly defeated being distracted by Mickey, his dying mentor.

Rocky's former nemesis, Apollo Creed, offers to train Rocky to prepare him for a rematch with Lang. The training combines the champion's direct combative style with more of a psychologically intimidating nuance—the "eye of the tiger."

At their long-expected rematch, Rocky comes out swinging and easily dominates the frustrated and confused Lang. In the second round, however, Lang turns the tables on Rocky, who instead of fighting back decides to tire his opponent by taking a severe beating. He taunts Lang but can't be defeated.

In the third round, Lang is quickly exhausted as Rocky either absorbs Lang's knockout blows, blocks them or successfully dodges them. Defenseless, Rocky lands a devastating blow against Lang with a flurry of powerful punches and Lang goes down hard.

What does this have to do with Pope Francis? Nothing at all. And perhaps, everything. Maybe I just liked the movie, and the idea of Francis engaging a tiger got me to think about the movie. Or perhaps, it's just like St. Cyprian explains in the same treatise:

But St. Paul and the sacred Scriptures tell us that the quarrelsome man and the troublemaker, who is never at peace with his brothers, cannot escape the charge of internal dissension even though he may die for Christ’s name. For it is written: He who hates his brother is a murderer, nor can he attain the kingdom of heaven. God cannot abide a murderer. He cannot be united with Christ, who has preferred to imitate Judas rather than Christ. (Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer — Nn. 23-24: CSEL 3, 284-285)

Pope Francis is our pope just as Pope Benedict XVI was our pope and St. John Paul II was before him—as will be the next 1000 popes and the 1000 after them and any subsequent popes. I have no respect for those who berate and belittle Catholics and the Catholic Church, either from within or without.

The Pope's got God's back and God's got his. Keep this in mind before leveling any criticisms about either of them. Consider which side―either the sheep or the goats―you hope to be on at the Final Judgement. (Mt 25:31-46)