Along with sedevacantists, reactionary “Catholic” writers such as Ann Barnhardt have gone so far as to call Francis an anti-pope. I’m not going to go into every saying of Pope Francis that causes some to accuse him of misleading the flock (at best) or heresy (at worst). However, I think it’s instructive to address a few of these statements that so upset them.
One of the statements that has caused much concern is about how Mary reacted to the crucifixion of Jesus, while standing at the foot of the cross.
“…at the foot of the cross. The Gospel does not tell us anything: if she spoke a word or not… She was silent, but in her heart, how many things told the Lord! ‘You, that day, this and the other that we read, you had told me that he would be great, you had told me that you would have given him the throne of David, his forefather, that he would have reigned forever and now I see him there!’ Our Lady was human! And perhaps she even had the desire to say: ‘Lies! I was deceived!’” (December 20, 2013)
“Our Lady was human! Inside surely she wanted to say to the Angel: ‘Liar! I was deceived.’” (May 28, 2015)
Sites critical of Francis point to these words as somehow contrasting with more reverent treatments of Mary throughout Christian history. Here’s Ann Barnhardt: “When Bergoglio says that the Blessed Virgin Mary perhaps, while standing at the foot of The Cross, accused God of deceiving her, I hear not the voice of Jesus Christ the Good shepherd, I hear the voice of the devil.”
I have to disagree. First, as a Jesuit, Pope Francis is deeply steeped in Ignatian Spirituality, which employs imagination as part of prayer. For example, during the second week of the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius suggests imagining being part of the journey to Bethlehem that led up to Jesus’ nativity, including, “the poverty, the thirst, the hunger, the cold, the insults that meet the arrival of God-with-us.”
Other Jesuits have written about imagining the anguish that Jesus’ mother and the Beloved Disciple must have felt at the foot of the cross. On the ETWN web site, hosted by Fr. Raymond Gawronski, S.J., a segment of an online Ignatian retreat includes these words: “The Church is gathered at the foot of His Cross, His Mother and His Beloved Disciple. Then he is buried, and with Him, all our fondest hopes and dreams, and that which seemed to be the promise of the Kingdom of God come with power.”
Taking Francis’ imaginings of what the Blessed Virgin might have thought is totally in keeping with this Jesuit style of prayer.
I would argue that it’s also very much in keeping with the theology put forward in the Gospel of Luke 2:50-51 when Joseph and Mary found Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem, “But they [Joseph and Mary] did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.” I’d also point to the parallel between Luke 1:38 (“May it be done to me according to your word”), Luke 1:42-45 (“’Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb… Blessed are you who believed what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled”), and Luke 11:27-28 (“While he was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.’ He replied, ‘Rather blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”) Luke is very clearly conveying that Mary, even before Jesus’ public ministry, was one who exemplified Christian practice by her trust in God and listening to her son, even when she did not understand. It was not just that she was Jesus’ family that made her special.
In Luke, Mary is really the first Christian disciple, who is exemplary from her listening to the word of God and trusting it. It’s not that Mary just “got” everything. In fact, sometimes her son surprised her in ways that she did not expect, or even welcome at first. In Mark 3:20-21 and 31-35, Mary is identified as one of the members of Jesus family who “set out to seize him, for the said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” (Mk 3:31) When Jesus hears that his mother and brothers are standing outside, he replies, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mk 3:35)
I will note the parallelism between Mark 3:35 and Luke 11:27-28, where Jesus defines as either “blessed” or “brother/brother/sister mother”, those who hear the word of God and do it. It’s a point made clear, multiple times.
For Francis to imagine aloud that Mary was a human being who reacted with horror and doubt to the death of her son is perfectly normal to me. How else should we interpret the prophecy of Simeon in Luke 2:34-35 (“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed”)? Should we honestly believe that Mary looked on the shameful and bloody crucifixion of Jesus without wondering about what God had promised?
I see the Holy Father’s statements here as being well within the orthodox Jesuit tradition, and totally in keeping with what we read in scripture.