New method, old message


Commentary by Jonathan Matthes

It’s an interesting time to be a Catholic. You could be sipping champagne at a wedding reception, watching the father-daughter dance, when an agnostic relative leans over to tell you that he likes the new pope. That he thinks Francis’ embrace of the less decadent life sets a good example for the church and the world to follow. What?!

You could open a TIME Magazine, Oct. 7, 2013 to be exact, and find an article about how Pope Francis is “a radical traditionalist.” The journalist is using this term as a good thing. What?! You must excuse my surprise. We aren’t used to being spoken of in a positive light at receptions or in secular magazines. It’s a change in the wind ushered by the Pontiff from Argentina.

Francis hasn’t been pope long. But he also hasn’t taken a long time easing into the role. It didn’t take long for his actions (Look, he’s paying for his hotel room!) to be photographed and dispersed throughout the world. It didn’t take long before his words got journalists’ cranking out stories.

In other words it didn’t take long for him to get the church back into the public forum. The oddest thing about it is that his teachings and messages have not contradicted anything his predecessors have said. He’s maintained that the pope is not like a business executive, as he is often mistaken of being, that can make wholesale changes whenever he wants to. For the record, he doesn’t intend on making doctrinal changes.

What is different about him, what got the church back into TIME isn’t what he’s said. It’s how he’s said it. He is both firm and compassionate. If you want a model of how you can speak with love, Francis is that model.

That has been the most intriguing thing about the new pontiff. He’s shown us a new way to communicate an ancient message. He’s shown us how to speak to the 21st century world. He’s shown that people are willing to listen. It’s an exciting revelation, one that gives me hope. It is an interesting time to be a Catholic, indeed.

Jonathan Matthes is a Zionsville resident and is studying philosophy at Saint Meinrad Seminary. He can be reached at

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