As you may know, a few weeks ago Pope Francis was criticized for making a statement about how Catholics are not required to breed like rabbits. I wasn’t planning on writing about the pope’s remark, but I’ve had some people bring it up for discussion, so I decided I would share my thoughts with you concerning the pope and his comment.
If you’ve been paying any attention to Pope Francis and the amount of publicity he gets for his spontaneous comments, you may believe that he’s reckless and that he talks too much. If you have that belief, you would be able to find a lot of people who agree with you.
Pope Francis is a classic extrovert. There have been seven popes in my lifetime: Pius XII (Mar. 2, 1939 – Oct. 9, 1958), John XXIII (Oct. 28, 1958 – Jun. 3, 1963), Paul VI (Jun. 21, 1963 – Aug. 6, 1978), John Paul I (Aug. 26, 1978 – Sep. 28, 1978), John Paul II (Oct. 16, 1978 – Apr. 2, 2005), Benedict XVI (Apr. 19, 2005 – Feb. 28, 2013), and Francis (Mar. 13, 2013 – present). Six of those seven popes were introverts. The seventh — Pope Francis — is an extrovert. For the first time in our lifetimes, we have a pope who is an extrovert.
In his book, Looking at Type: The Fundamentals, Charles R. Martin wrote about the differences between extroverts and introverts.
According to Martin, as a general rule, extroverts enjoy being around and are energized by other people. They spend a lot more of their time talking than introverts do. Extroverts like making things happen and generally feel at home in the world. They’re usually better able to solve problems when they can talk things through with other people. The following statements ordinarily apply to extroverts:
• They are viewed by others as “outgoing” or as “people persons.”
• They feel comfortable with and like working with others.
• They know a lot of people and have a wide range of friends.
• They tend to take action and jump into activities without taking the time to first think things through.
As a general rule, introverts are energized by ideas, pictures, memories, and inspiring thoughts. They often prefer doing things alone or with one or two other people whom they’re comfortable with. They take time to reflect so they can develop a clear plan on how they want to act. Ideas are sometimes more appealing to them than the real thing. The following statements ordinarily apply to introverts:
• They are seen as “reflective” or “reserved.”
• They feel comfortable being alone and like doing things on their own.
• They prefer to know just a few people well.
• They can easily spend too much time reflecting, which keeps them from moving into action quickly enough.
• They sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if their ideas really fit the experience of being in the world.
If you were to guess whether Jesus was an introvert or extrovert, what would your guess be? Keep in mind that He kept Himself hidden for the first 30 years of His life. After He began His public life, He frequently escaped from the crowds and His disciples so He could be alone to think and pray. At one point, He spent 40 days alone in the desert.
What about His mother, Mary? From what we know about her, she was practically invisible to the world. She was a humble maiden who kept to herself. When she wasn’t busy serving her family, she spent her time in prayer.
Four of my parents’ 17 children are extroverts. Two of my seven children are extroverts. I’m an introvert and my wife is an extrovert.
There are different degrees of introversion and extroversion. On one end of the spectrum is the extreme introvert who lives his life as though he is a hermit. On the other end of the spectrum is the extreme extrovert who feels as though she is a failure when she goes one evening without spending time with one or more of her friends.
Most of us fall someplace in between the two extremes.
While Pope Francis may not be an extreme extrovert, in my opinion, he’s close to being one. He doesn’t like being cooped up in the Vatican. He is a very outgoing person who is energized by being around other people. He loves to talk and feels at home with everyone he comes into contact with. It’s not unusual for him to pick up the telephone and make personal calls to old friends. What’s wrong with calling old friends? He considers all the people he got to know when he was a cardinal as his “old friends.”
It’s common for Pope Francis to sit on an airplane and talk to reporters for an hour or two at a time. That’s what he was doing when, in response to a question, he said, “God gives you methods to be responsible. Some think that — excuse the word — in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No.”
About 30 years ago, I got into an argument with a Catholic lawyer (who was a community leader) about the Church’s teachings on contraception. At one point, the lawyer barked, “The Catholic Church says that you have to crank out a baby every year.” When he said that, I immediately burst out laughing. I was stunned at how uninformed this highly educated Catholic professional was when it came to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
A lot of Catholics have the same mistaken view of the Catholic teachings on family planning that the lawyer had. Ever since my conversation with the lawyer, each time I have been involved in a similar conversation, I’ve gotten the issue out in the open by saying, “A lot of Catholics mistakenly believe that the Church says that you have to crank out a baby every year. That’s not what the Church teaches.”
If Pope Francis would have been more strategic about what he was saying, he would have said, “A lot of Catholics mistakenly believe that the Church says that you should have a baby every year. That’s not what the Church teaches.” By framing the statement in this way, instead of sounding flippant or defensive, he would have sounded as though he was simply educating the reporters on the beliefs of some Catholics and the Church’s position on contraception and family planning.
We’re going to see a lot more of this in the future — comments by Pope Francis that could have been more artfully stated and are subsequently misinterpreted or taken out of context. That’s what happens when you have a world leader who, compared with his predecessors, enjoys visiting with strangers and “talks too much.”
I think it’s kind of refreshing to have a leader who is willing to be so open with everyone he comes into contact with. But we should pray for him daily. As the Vicar of Christ on Earth, he has a lot of enemies who would like to neutralize him.