Built within the papacy is supposed to be a constant reminder of the ancient pact that office has made with Jesus Christ.
According to tradition, Pope Francis and the 264 other popes before him are the successors to the Apostle Peter. The man who traveled and ate with the Lord, while also witnessing the miracles he performed. The man who denied Christ three times before the cock crowed. The man who was renamed Cephas (or “Rock”) as a symbol of the sacred role he was being called to perform as a planter of the early church.
Thus, there is no one more qualified to give advice to Pope Francis about his papal visit to the United States than St. Peter, who thankfully left behind a written record of his counsel. It begins with a simple question for Pope Francis:
“Are you obeying the command to feed Christ’s sheep?”
Much has been said about Pope Francis’ passion for shepherding people on the fringes of the faith since he became pope in 2013. That is an unambiguous continuation of Peter’s service to the Lord and his church, who immediately capitalized upon the grace instilled in him at Pentecost by going out among Jerusalem’s crowds and baptizing “about three thousand persons” that day.
But those baptisms weren’t carried out in the name of the “common good” that Pope Francis so often mentioned in his speech before the U.S. Congress. No, they were specifically gifted to the people who accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior with these words from Peter: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” (Acts 2:40)
To be sure, the church’s concern for the poor is, among other things, done in pursuit of the common good. And America’s constitutional directive to “promote the general welfare” can certainly be said to run parallel will that concern to some extent. Yet that is still a far cry from a speech to Congress that when translated from Vatican-speak to Washington, D.C.-ese sounded a lot like “we are from the government and we are here to help.”
Ah, the government. The very place that corrupt generations like to make camp and feed sheep with the sort of welfare state programs and pagan indoctrination that tends to keep the flock in chains rather than point it toward salvation. Just what St. Peter had in mind not at all.
In fact, Peter’s curing of a crippled beggar led to thousands more being baptized while being accompanied by the explicit promise that “neither gold nor silver” would be part of the same transaction. And those new converts also got to see Peter and his crew thrown in jail for daring to defy the spiritual usurpers of that age, instead of engaging in a completely contrived interfaith prayer service with them.
No economic redistribution, just healing. No getting with the times, just persecution. No false gods, just truth.
“There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved,” said Peter of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:12, 19-20).
That is why the people came to repent. That is the true common good (humanity’s universal need for the grace God alone can supply). Sadly, that seemed to be the only thing Pope Francis never discussed.
Another successor to St. Peter, Pope John Paul II, seemed to understand that in a truly revolutionary way. When he visited Nicaragua in 1983, his first order of business after getting off his plane was to openly chastise Ernesto Cardenal – a Catholic priest working as an elected official for the communist government – in front of a throng of people on the airport runway.
“You must fix your affairs with the Church,” said Pope John Paul II with the aid of a scolding finger as Cardenal knelt before him. And that was clearly a message an entire nation also needed to hear after forsaking the faith of its fathers for socialist lies. Sound like any other nation you might know?
Pope John Paul II was even shouted down during a homily in front of 700,000 people with screams of protest for his message, which included describing the ruling Sandinistas’ recipe for government as “godless communism.” However, John Paul II answered right back with firmness and gusto: “Silencio!”
When a flock has been transformed into a horde of decadence and blasphemy, sometimes that is exactly what it needs to hear. But as far as I can tell, Pope Francis was not prepared or willing to go there. Many of us waited for him to tell both Congress and the American people that the butchers of Planned Parenthood have spilled enough blood to make even the Aztecs blush.
But instead the pope’s pro-life message seemed to drift ambiguously among other moral and political platitudes that don’t share the same gravity or immediacy.
Looking down from his heavenly station, St. Peter might see the throngs of well-wishers for Pope Francis in three of America’s biggest and most influential cities and be less than impressed. Feeding the Lord’s sheep in his own cultural hotbeds did not lead to parades and endless fanfare, but to yet more trips to jail, a rigorous flogging and ultimately his own crucifixion. Upside down, no less, so as to humble himself before his Lord one last time.
Jesus Christ never said that following him would not come without a cost.
Rather, he said the cost would be worth it. Death has been conquered and we need not be afraid, so our true calling is to worry less about applause lines and reach more for the sort of rhetorical trumpets that knock down the walls of our modern Jerichos.
After Peter faithfully did exactly that, and was released from jail in those early chapters of the Book of Acts, he and his fellow disciples’ prayers were followed with awesome testimony from the Lord: “The place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Unfortunately, we cannot say our country has been similarly impacted by Pope Francis’ visit. He tried to walk fine lines rather than shake the place up. He spoke much of politics but the word of God not so much. And he seemed more interested in being nicer-than-God than boldness.
So while those St. Peter encountered were rarely the same afterward, we will on the other hand continue to be the same decadent and declining world power we already were after encountering Pope Francis. Mainly because he failed to challenge us with these words from the one he is charged with emulating:
“Live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as an excuse to do evil but to live as servants of God.”
(Steve Deace is a nationally syndicated talk show host and also the author of the new book “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can “like” him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.)