The election of Francis on the heals of Benedict's resignation brought uncertainty to the more traditionally minded Catholics and some new sense of hope to the more progressively minded Catholics.
"Good grief, he is wearing black shoes instead of the red shoes that symbolize the death of Peter!"
"Here is a video of a Mass he celebrated with clowns and puppets! He's going to roll back the liturgical reforms of Benedict and suppress the Extraordinary Form!"
"Egad! He washed the feet of women at Holy Thursday (doesn't he know the meaning of the Latin viri?), and in a prison rather than at the Lateran Basilica!"
"Finally! A South American, breaking the Eurocentric hegemony and man of the people (code word "Liberation Theology")"
"A return to the spirit of Good Pope John XXIII, a pope who will end the stifling of the Spirit of the Second Vatican Council that John Paul II and Benedict tried to suppress!"As time as transpired, Francis has rather challenged both ends of the spectrum by rejecting their shibboleths, and calling all to a deeper understanding of the Christian life, rejecting the politics of the Left and the formalism of the Right. He neither accepts the doctrines of the modernists, nor rejects the path in which the last two Popes have led the Church, but rather is working with a strong sense of continuity of the Office and the mission of the Church.
"Look, he is rejecting the Papal palace and the throne, living in a hotel, and walking among the people! Let's sing a new Church into being!"
This continuity can be made no more obvious than in his decision to release as his first encyclical letter, Lumen Fidei ("The Light of Faith"), which is the first encyclical co-authored by two successive popes. His predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, began this letter to commemorate the Year of Faith for the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II asked that we might,
restore the primacy of God in Christ to the centre of our lives, both as a Church and as individuals. The Church never takes faith for granted, but knows that this gift of God needs to be nourished and reinforced so that it can continue to guide her pilgrim way. (LF, 6)Lumen Fidei is the continuation of a series of magisterial teachings on the "three things that persist, faith, hope, and charity" (1 Cor 13:13). Benedict's first papal encyclical, Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love") grounds the life of the Christian in the reality of a loving encounter with Christ, not merely as an ethical decision but as an existential framework for participating in the love of God and how we are called to truly love our neighborhood in concrete terms. His second encyclical, Spe Salvi ("Saved by Hope") answers the modern claim that social progress is sufficient for the human community to save itself, without faith in Christ. His last encyclical, Caritas in Veritate ("Charity in Truth") is a statement on the Social Doctrine of the Church, that charity must always be grounded in truth and truth must always be sought within the economy of Christian love, and that therefore "charity" understood today must not be reduced to merely its social, juridical, cultural, political, or economic aspects, but it is necessarily theological in order for charity to express the fully human and relational importance of love.
While Benedict is the original author, and Pope Francis humbly states, “I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own,” the Holy Father is the moral and magisterial author the encyclical. As might be anticipated, the first encyclical of a Pontiff might well be read as a sort of keynote address to frame his own understanding of his pontificacy in the providence of the Holy Spirit continuously leading the Church into the fullness of truth and particularly answering the needs and challenges of the present age. John Paul II stated this plainly in his own first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis ("The Redeemer of Man"):
It was to Christ the Redeemer that my feelings and my thoughts were directed on 16 October of last year, when, after the canonical election, I was asked: "Do you accept?" I then replied: "With obedience in faith to Christ, my Lord, and with trust in the Mother of Christ and of the Church, in spite of the great difficulties, I accept". Today I wish to make that reply known publicly to all without exception, thus showing that there is a link between the first fundamental truth of the Incarnation, already mentioned, and the ministry that, with my acceptance of my election as Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, has become my specific duty in his See. (RH, 2)Similarly, Benedict noted at the beginning of Deus Caritas Est,
In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message is both timely and significant. For this reason, I wish in my first Encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others. (DCE, 1)Francis tells us now that he wishes to continue the themes of his predecessor, but not only Benedict but all the Successors of Peter:
These considerations on faith — in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced on this theological virtue— are meant to supplement what Benedict XVI had written in his encyclical letters on charity and hope. He himself had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith. For this I am deeply grateful to him, and as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own. The Successor of Peter, yesterday, today and tomorrow, is always called to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the priceless treasure of that faith which God has given as a light for humanity’s path. (LF, 6)Francis's election has brought a new challenge to the Church, we we as Catholic can understand in the light of the maxim, Ecclesia semper reformanda et purificanda (the Church is always to be reformed and purified). This true reformation and purification was the impetus for Pope John XXIII to summon the Second Vatican Council, was a driving theme in the pontificacy of John Paul II. It is noteworthy and apt that the planned canonization of both of these men was also announced today. This theme of semper reformanda is also embedded in the last farewell address that Benedict XVI gave to the Cardinals:
I am helped by an expression of Romano Guardini written in the year in which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the Constitution Lumen gentium, in his last book with a personal dedication to me, so the words of this book are particularly dear to me. Guardini said that the Church is not an institution devised and built at table, but a living reality. She lives along the course of time, evolving, like any living being, transforming herself. Yet her nature remains the same.As we read and consider this new gift of Lumen Fidei to the Church, let us be cognizant of the continuity of tradition and the continuity of the Petrine Office now vested in Pope Francis, as the Holy Spirit continues to reform and purify the Church.