Netflix has released a trailer for its new, original film entitled, “The Two Popes.” The film will, no doubt, stir up some interest in both the Catholic media and the secular press.
Based on our viewing of the short clip, we can guess that Pope Benedict XVI is depicted as a dour, strict, sad man and Pope Francis as a joyful, free-spirited man who has no connection to the tradition.
It’s not wise to reduce anyone to a stereotype or a caricature. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wasn’t a removed, intellectual, non-pastoral cleric. He is deeply in love with the Lord and the church. His homilies and writings, far from being overly intellectual, are the product of a man who is a master teacher. Read these words from the homily of his inaugural Mass in 2005:
“Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom?
“And once again the pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ!
“He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ — and you will find true life. Amen.”
Likewise, we shouldn’t reduce the complex thinker that Pope Francis is to someone who is not an intellectual. True, the pope is not a published systematic theologian like Cardinal Ratzinger, but he is more than just a do-gooder in white. He has a theological and spiritual depth that is real and profound. Read the depth of his theological reflection from his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” which was published in 2013:
“The Christian ideal will always be a summons to overcome suspicion, habitual mistrust, fear of losing our privacy, all the defensive attitudes which today’s world imposes on us. Many try to escape from others and take refuge in the comfort of their privacy or in a small circle of close friends, renouncing the realism of the social aspect of the Gospel.
“For just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross, they also want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off on command.
“Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.”
Yes, neither man can be reduced to a one-sided image. They are both gifts of God to the church, each offering different human gifts to the same role as pontiff.