I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

Luke 12:49-53.

Six years in and I can say that Pope Francis has been successful in taking my faith to the next level. Readers here might just think of me as a Francis apologist, but truth be told, this is just a side gig. My primary responsibility (as is yours) is to be a saint, and I feel that Francis has both deepened my understanding of the Catholic faith and spurred me on to greater holiness. For this, I am eternally grateful.  

Looking back over the last six years, what can we say about Francis’ papacy?  First and perhaps most importantly, Francis has been, without a doubt, responsible for a lot of divisions in the Church today. I am referring, of course, to the way in which our Church is currently divided over pressing questions like “did Pope Benedict really resign?”

In seriousness, Pope Francis has caused many hidden divisions to become apparent. Many of these debates that we are having now are in no way new; they were just covered over by the veneer of apparent conservatism emanating from the Holy See over the last couple papacies. (Astute observers would note how this characterization of “conservatism” pushed by mass media was not exactly accurate and in some respects was flat wrong.)   However, once Francis stressed the richness of specific traditions of our Church’s teachings–specifically on social justice, the environment, and in personal holiness–it became very clear that many American Catholics have been struggling for some time to reconcile the fullness of their faith with their Americanism. Consequently, Catholics have become increasingly divided, largely on political grounds.

I feel like I have the right to say this, not as one who is judging but as one who himself walked through the difficult process of disentangling my faith from my political preferences. Almost exactly ten years ago, in between graduation and my brief stint at law school, I was cheering on Rick Santelli as he inadvertently gave birth to the Tea Party movement. I faithfully watched Glenn Beck try to give a more “virtuous” accounting of American conservatism. Despite this, I still emphasized the importance of my Catholic religion. For example, I tried to explain away some of Pope Benedict’s comments about international organizations needing “real teeth.” This smacked of globalism, which was an affront to my desire to see a strong, independent America. But the truth was that I really did not feel great about ignoring what the Pope had to say.

Then, critics were suggesting that Pope Francis wanted us to stop worrying about all this religion stuff and tackle climate change. If Laudato Si’ didn’t do it, nothing made the case better than when the Vatican played a light show of animals across the facade of St. Peters. As much as I had wanted to agree with them, it was starting to get predictable and tiresome.

As a Catholic and a graduate with a theology degree, I thought I should actually read the darn thing–Laudato Si’, that is–and see what Francis really had to say. And so I did. While there were some passages addressed specifically to the problems of climate change, I was actually very impressed by the many other passages of Laudato Si’. In many ways, they echoed the points made by Pope Benedict who spoke of a profound relationship between God’s creation and ourselves. It was becoming clearer and clearer that, perhaps, those Catholics that dismissed Laudato Si’ and other teachings of the Pope out of hand had no real good reason to do so.

This, essentially, is the reason why I wanted to support the work of Where Peter Is. Catholic commentators in the United States have seemingly bent over backwards to try and undermine the Pope at every turn. According to them, it would seem like every statement and every document needs to be read with a gold and red pen in hand, because you never know when the Pope might say something with which you disagree.

Perhaps it’s just a personality trait or maybe it’s a fatal flaw, but I have a fundamental conviction that you cannot grow as a person if you do not allow other people to tell you you’re wrong. No one has more authority to do so than the Pope, who told me time and again, “You’re wrong.”

I have learned from Francis that the only good path is the path that leads to Jesus Christ. Every choice we make must be seen then as an outpouring of the love which Christ first showed to us when he offered us his mercy. This is my takeaway from Gaudete et Exsultate, on which I wrote my first piece for WPI. Gaudete et Exsultate is a remarkably down-to-earth document that, in simple terms, teaches Catholics how to pray and be holy. What a blessing it was!

Over the last six years, Pope Francis has been responsible for deep divisions in my soul. He has been helping me to identify what is evil, separate it from the good, and excise it from my life. I have learned from Francis and put his suggestions into practice. Ultimately, I hope my words and actions are good fruit that reflect the work Christ has wrought in me through his teachings.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/136682034@N03/25483686473


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Daniel Amiri is a Catholic layman and finance professional. A graduate of theology and classics from the University of Notre Dame, his studies coincided with the papacy of Benedict XVI whose vision, particularly the framework of "encounter" with Christ Jesus, has heavily influenced his thoughts.  He is a husband and a father to three beautiful children. He serves on parish council and also enjoys playing and coaching soccer.

Six Years of Francis: Giving Thanks for Division

10 Responses

  1. Andreas says:

    This is maybe far-fetched or flatly wrong. But i have has this idea for quit long now that Francis is leading to Church into a kind of collective ignatian retreat. The division we see in the church according to this idea, is a kind of ignatian “discernment of spirits “ on a grand scale.

    • Daniel Amiri says:

      Given Gaudete et Exsultate and his Ignatian influences, I have to think you’re not too far off the mark. Others can probably say this more eloquently, but I do see a lot of the focus of Francis’ papacy to be about refocusing the Church’s effort on helping each individual grow in holiness, through the love of Jesus Christ, in accordance with the will of God. Definitely a large-scale “coming to terms” with ones faith.

  2. chris dorf says:

    Excellent article. Many folks seem to substitute following Jesus for following the rubrics. I say this with the experience of having been in Catholic Charismatis Renewal, and having those same folks disparage our enthusiasm. Jesus did say that at some time many people will harrass people thinking that they are doing God’s will, and today people seem to be confused over whom is on which side?
    I recall the fallout when Pope JPII prayed at Assisi with other religions…syncretism and relativism they all screamed!

  3. The Owl ~ ಠvಠ says:

    —>Catholic commentators in the United States have seemingly bent over backwards to try and undermine the Pope at every turn.

    This is flat out wrong. It is not until well after Amoris laetitia (2016) that benefit of the doubt stop being given as a default position amongst respectable Catholic commentators and bloggers. Most still are nowhere near a level of undermining the papacy.

    That Joe Blogger might be posting a fit is, well, the internet. Name a subject and you will find vitriol to spare.

    My own personal experience of this Papacy has been that of alienation. Breaks my heart, really it does. You might find fault with me for that and say that I am not trying hard enough or that it is not my decision to decide what to like and what to not like. That is not how you repair alienation, not at all. It only increases alienation. Have some empathy and really really try to listen to someone who is alienated by Pope France – not just someone who is critical, but a real someone who is alienated.

    • Daniel Amiri says:

      Conservative groups, think tanks and blogs have most definitely been critical of Pope Francis throughout his entire papacy. What I had in mind especially were these conservative groups and to the extent that Catholics contributed to them. Separately, there were the usual suspects, including Skojec and Rorate but I never did follow them.

      I’m sure you’re familiar with all the criticism of the foot-washing even in the first months of his papacy. You’re right in saying that things reached a new level post-Amoris Laetitia, most of which was not a faithful thinking through of the document. Most specifically, it was Arroyo in 2018 on immigration that really pushed me over the edge. Wherever Arroyo was in 2013, he was seemingly going out of his way to mislead people on the importance of certain aspects of the Church’s teaching post-Trump. http://wherepeteris.com/raymond-arroyo-policy-over-fidelity/

      I can sympathize with people who feel left behind or feel that the Church doesn’t care for them. But as I implied in my article, it is hard for me to empathize with people who put their convictions ahead of the Magisterium, which is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture and Tradition. I’m not sure if that’s where you are, of course, but to me, this fundamental error deserves fraternal correction precisely becase these are the people who should know better. There seems to be some fundamental misunderstanding about what the Church teaches or what we’re called to as lay Catholics. As you implied in another comment, critics of Francis hold to “doctrine and dogma as being fundamental.” Well then, they should hold fast to what the Church teaches!

      I admit that people can have different understandings and opinions about the Church and her teachings. There is a healthy dynamism that we ought to defend in the Church. Diversity is a good thing. What’s most important, in my mind, is to have diversity within the context of rightly ordered relationships. Just like Donum Veritatis suggests, even strong disagreement with the Magisterium MUST occur within the context of love, respect, and trust of the Magisterium.

    • Marie says:

      I understand what you are saying, but you must understand how hurtful it is to those of us who love Pope Francis and must listen to relentless attacks on him. To watch Catholic family members speak with such contempt for the Pope, often with such arrogance, it is very very difficult. Another problem I see, particularly unique to Americans is for many their faith has morphed into the Republican Party, and they are no longer willing or able to separate the two. While we all recognize the problem in every party, apparently for some the Republican Party gets a free pass. Our faith has always been about moral and social teachings, yet our political entities do not seem to grasp the relationship between the two. It is very hard to watch Catholics divide themselves according to one, but leave behind the other. I really do believe we need to approach our faith more simply. We tend to argue over great details, but skip the basics. When we listen to the Pope, he speaks to all of us, like Jesus did, to the scholars, the saints and the sinners. sometimes we need to see things like we did when we were children, appreciate the little things and see our fellow man like children do. At least this is what Pope Francis has taught me, and I love him for it.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      The criticism of Pope Francis goes back to the beginning of his papacy. Beginning with “the horror” (the Rorate Caeli blog’s immediate reaction) to the foot-washing of women on the first Holy Thursday in 2013, the disposition against Pope Francis was one of suspicion, then expressions of how he was “confusing” and his words were “concerning” to outright skepticism from the moment Cardinal Kasper addressed the Cardinals in February 2014, to mocking Francis’ description of Kasper’s theology as “serene,” to his in-flight comments after his pilgrimage to the Philippines (about rabbits), to the disgraceful and disrespectful EWTN coverage of Francis’ trip to the US in 2015.

      Let’s not forget Maureen Mullarkey’s First Things blog at the beginning of 2015, or Steve Skojec’s blog post entitled “Something Wicked” from March 2014, in which he speculates about whether Francis is the False Prophet of Revelation. We can’t overlook Pat Archbold’s unhinged posts in the National Catholic Register, which were brought to a merciful end in early 2015. Non-Catholics such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage ranted about him on the radio after Laudato Si’.

      Yes, the quantity and intensity of the vitriol has increased since Amoris Laetitia (even more so since the dubia), but AL was simply a rallying cry – the smoking gun they were all looking for: “Francis teaches heresy.” It’s been there since the beginning.

      The more seeds of doubt they can sow, the more people they pull into their way of thinking.

  4. Chris dorf says:

    Mike, good observations and elaboration on the entire ‘Pope Francis is a hetetic/anti-christ movement.

  5. carn says:

    “However, once Francis stressed the richness of specific traditions of our Church’s teachings–specifically on social justice, the environment, and in personal holiness–it became very clear that many American Catholics have been struggling for some time to reconcile the fullness of their faith with their Americanism.”

    “Glenn Beck”

    Ok, if American Catholics were actually in need to be shown that “Glenn Beck” and “Tea Party” are not fully in line with the teaching of the Catholic Church, then it probably is in abstract a good idea if someone tried to tell them.

    I am from Germany; i read since long German catholic blogs or at least blogs trying to be worthy of being called “catholic”; they never cared much about what American Republicans said or did or what Glenn Beck said or did or what the Tea Party is or does.

    Yet, they struggle more and more with what Pope Francis says and does; mainly cause they know by heart all the German clerics and theologians who would love to directly scrap this or that Church teaching they dislike and these clerics and theologians are nearly constantly FOND of everything Pope Francis says and does; and these more traditional German catholics cannot help to observe that YES, much of what Pope Francis says and does, is useful for those people in Germany, who since decades would like nothing more than scrap all the Church teaching they dislike.

    And these more tradional catholic German blogs dutifully highlight everything positive they can say about Pope Francis; when he speaks of abortion as hiring a hitman they CHEER him (that is one of the few things, regarding which the usual Pope Francis fans in Germany mumble and stumble a bit, cause of course they dislike the Church teaching about abortion as well); they do not even argue much about what Pope Francis says in regarding to economy or ecology (cause in Germany much of what the Pope suggest there is actually already in a sense part of laws).

    The only area in which they more or less might be borderline dissenter is immigration; but that is mainly caused by the 2015 events, due to which all of Germany had some reassessment of the idea that really every single immigrant happening to cross the border must be welcomed and must be presumed to be a blessing for the country.

    I do not see any explanation for the discomfort of these catholics have with Pope Francis; at least no political explanation.

    • Daniel Amiri says:

      I will admit I carry the perspective of an American when writing. I don’t doubt conditions and circumstances are much different here than in Germany. It would be impossible for me to comment on what I would do in your situation, but it does help me appreciate better your position. Some of what has been proposed doesn’t seem best to me.

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