Responding to Francispoloza

When I was in the process of converting from a vaguely Protestant, New Age secular spirituality of my own shutterstock_162800981concoction into the fullness of the Catholic faith, I found myself having to explain my decision to lots of people.

Lots and lots and lots of people.  Which, given my life before my conversion, was not surprising.  In the course of those conversations, I learned a couple very important things about myself, my new faith, and people in general.

  1. If I didn’t know the answer to a question, and tried to act like I did, I found myself become very defensive.  Someone asked me about the Church’s teaching on an all-male priesthood?  I’d find myself getting irritated and snarky because at certain points on the road to my conversion, I understand the reasons enough to articulate them myself.
  2. It’s ok to say, “I don’t know”.  Once I realized my annoyance with certain questions sprung from a lack of information on my part, I had to learn to say, “I don’t know.”  At first, this was a horrifying prospect.  What if the truth was revealed to be something horrible?  What if it made no sense?  What if it was ugly?  My lack of faith in my new faith prevented me from being humble about it.  It was a real demonstration of trust in God that got me to a place where I could say, “You know, I don’t know the answer; let’s go find it!” and not be scared of the answer.
  3. There will be some people who are not asking questions to learn, but rather to wound.  Once I learned more about Catholicism, and learned to admit when I didn’t know jack, I really began to enjoy conversations about the “why” of my conversion.  Most people were honestly curious about what I’d found so attractive in the Catholic faith to make me do a 180 in my life to join the Church.
  4. But not everyone.  Once in a while, I’d run across someone who asked questions only to try and paint me in a corner, to create a “gotcha!” moment, wherein they imagined they’d disproved the legitimacy of either Catholicism or my conversion.  Those were people whose hearts were not open, and no amount of honest discussion would satisfy.  And, even harder than learning to admit when I didn’t know something, I had to learn when to leave a conversation.

I think about those three points a lot lately, what with the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the election of Pope Francis seemingly without an end on the horizon.  I think how having this sweet, confusing, challenging man as our Pontiff has brought all the faithful more or less into the same position I was when I entered the Church.  So, with the closest thing to “authority” I’ll probably ever have on a real topic of actual relevance, I’d like to present to you my three tips on weathering Francispoloza (do you like it?  I just made it up.  I’m not sure how it works).

  1. If you don’t know the answer to someone’s question, don’t get angry.  When someone says to you, “So, I hear that Pope Francis is surveying all the world’s parishes about gay couples so the Church will start accepting them” or “I heard the Pope won’t evangelize atheists since they’re going to heaven anyway”, don’t get angry.  Don’t get irritated.  First, ask yourself, “do I really know the context of these quotes?”  Lots of times, the sound bytes come from mainstream media outlets so antagonistic to the Church that you can almost discount them out of hand, which means one of two things: you can either explain how the statement was taken out of context or you can go to…
  2. …step two.  Sometimes, the person comes up with something so sincerely believed and/or hoped for that you can’t just brush it off.  It’s a question that demands an honest response.  The divorced and remarried co-worker who says that he heard the Pope said Communion restrictions will soon be relaxed for people civilly remarried without an annulment is, in effect, standing in front of you with his soul naked, yearning for a return to the Sacraments.  You can’t blow him off.  But what if you don’t know what the Pope said in this case?  What if you can’t accurately articulate why the Church prohibits divorced and remarried people from receiving Holy Communion?  Someone who is honestly seeking answers will respect an “I don’t know.  But let me find out what he said and get back to you”.

Then do it.  Educate yourself.  Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to knowledge and articulation.  Then share what you’ve learned with your friend.  The Truth is never damaged by research.
However, sometimes you’re faced with a person who isn’t honestly seeking answers.  Sometimes you’re faced with…

3…someone who is picking a fight.  That person who, even after being gently corrected about the newest media misconception about the Holy Father’s words refuses to listen.  Or seeks to engage you in an argument.  Oh! It’s so easy to be drawn into their anger, so easy to pretend like Holy Mother Church depends on you winning this debate.  For me at least, it’s such a struggle to master Pride and Wrath, and hearing someone trash talk Catholicism is just chumming the water.  But I have to remember that this isn’t about me.  Souls are not won by “winning” a debate, and no amount of argument or anger is going to open a heart to God.  I haven’t been appointed the Pope’s personal Facebook Defender, and neither have you.  Our Pope speaks the Truth in Love, and that’s not some delicate thing that needs a horde of thugs to protect.

So, if we take nothing else from Francispoloza, let it be a renewed sense of catechesis, the understanding that we can all benefit by admitting our ignorance, and making heartfelt steps to learn more about our Faith.  We’re all converts, daily turning away from our selfishness and turning more toward God.

image: Philip Chidell /

Cari Donaldson


Cari Donaldson lives on a New England farm with her high school sweetheart, their six kids, and a menagerie of animals of varying usefulness. She is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories, and has a weekly podcast about homesteading at

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  • Lee

    Being humble in one’s own Christian beliefs, and not being combative when we feel we are being attacked, takes relenting to the Holy Spirit. The Truth can exude from our presence and quietness as we spend time with those brothers and sisters who are not quite ready, but very interested in what we hold in our hearts.Your experiences shared with us helps us to recognize that (we are not alone), we do not have to have all the answers.

  • kirk

    Cari – How true it is! For the first 30 years of my life I was fundamentalist protestant to the core. Then I was confronted with “Truth” as taught by the Catholic faith, and made the switch without looking back. That was over 40 years ago but oh the questions, the confrontations from family and friends. Most of the time I held my own, but one family member’s assault was brutal – his use of the most vitriolic of Catholic-hating writers words as weapons of Mass destruction. I did not yet have the tools to counter his, and I felt guilty that my answers were insufficient – but I held my own by simply saying I thought he should find out what Catholics believed from the source, rather than from the opposition, especially from those whose minds are closed and barred.
    Yet, with all that – I love this faith and God is good!

  • chaco

    Bishop Sheen said that anti-catholics dislike what they THINK the Catholic Church is (not what it actually is). When I came out of “Minimum catholicism”, after sweet healing from meaculpa inflamed by Rosaries & Eucharistic devotion, I thought that others would become inflamed just from hearing about what I had ignored most of my adolescence. [ I was heavy into Fatima – thinking that anyone who heard about the miracle of the sun witnessed by 80,000 people would immediately become a “Gangbusters Catholic”.] Eventually I came to the understanding Paul speaks of in 1 Cor. 3: 1-2; We need to start with “Milk” 1st – then solid food later. I think Pope Francis is showing that milk is gentle kindess/ being friendly and explaining how ONLY God can read/ judge the conscience and determine a soul’s culpability. Your conversion story Cari, leaves me thinking that personal testimonies are a powerful soul-stirring form of milk as well.

  • Sonia

    Many of the Holy Father’s words in several interviews are open to misunderstanding because they are misleading, not always because the media twists them. The apparent thrust of some of his comments may mislead souls in such a way that they may think that very serious sins are not so serious. The penalty for sin is severe even within the infinite mercy of God. If we truly accept our responsibility to speak the truth for the salvation of souls, we will not allow, without protest, apparent untruths and confusing statements to be made by even the Pope. Because, we will stand before God one day and explain if we did not speak up while souls were misled into eternal suffering. We have an obligation to souls to speak the truth, and may Pope Francis realize his obligation to the world to speak only the truth.

  • So you’re telling me to be patient? To shut my mouth, study and know an answer before I speak? That the Holy Spirit will guide me in prudence and wisdom rather than the evil one’s rash reactionary responses? Well that takes all the fun out of it, doesn’t it? 😉

    Well done, Cari.

  • Cari Donaldson

    Nowhere did I suggest that we allow theological error to go uncorrected. What I did suggest was that we accept the limits of our understanding, be diligent in learning about our faith, and then sharing the truths of that faith with others.

  • Katalina

    The way I see is yes the media takes the pope’s words out of context is true but it is also true that Francis now regrets the confusion his words caused and as a result the whole interview was taken down from the Vatican’s web site a couple of days ago. When he or the new secretary uses the word IDEOLOGY nobody knows exactly what that means, and you can’t fault the media for the words he or the new secretary uses.

  • Kevin

    When there’s a chance that you, as a layman, have no clue what the heck you are talking about when it comes to the Bishop of Rome, it is normally a safe bet, and always operate from that idea.

  • Cari Donaldson

    Perhaps a fair assessment. But not really the point I’m trying to make. Substitute the current Pope for any Pope of your choosing, and the point remains- we have to acknowledge our own deficiencies of theological understanding, be willing to educate ourselves about them, and THEN evangelize others.

  • Lee

    Talk about someone picking a fight! Cari, you still have your work cut out for yourself.
    Keep moving forward, but maybe walk sideways.