Papa Francis has cured me—let’s hope it sticks!—of being a political junkie.
The contrast between his heartfelt, fearless convictions and the politicians’ transparent, crowd-pleasing triangulations is just too stark. The triangulators hardly seem worth poking fun at anymore. And belaboring the contrast between his subway rides and their luxury junkets just seems like overkill. The facts speak for themselves.
(Besides, I have an awful suspicion that the point of all this humility is not so much that we should despise the fat cats and fast talkers but that we should try to become what we’re meant to be. As Kierkegaard has pointed out, a little admiration is a dangerous thing. It’s easy enough to warble, “Oh, how wonderful! I could never be like that, but it’s so inspiring that Pope Francis and Mother Teresa and a few others can.” It’s harder but more honest to examine our own hearts, wallets, and attachments.)
But I doubt I’ll be able to work up as much angst anymore about the purely political. Good and evil, yes. Political ups and downs, no.
Still, there’s a surface resemblance between the Pope’s way of being “all things to all men” and the politicians’ attempts to project all images to all demographic segments.
Papa Francis embraces a surprisingly wide range of people and passions—so wide that we’re not used to speaking of them in the same breath. Just this week, he's met with the Prime Minister of Argentina and the Vatican City garbage collectors. Politicians try to get away with juxtaposing incompatibles
How else, after all, are you going to placate Joe Six-pack on Monday and the Ivy League socialists on Tuesday? But these political games are just a counterfeit. And in the end, you can’t please everybody.
Actually, Pope Francis is pleasing nearly all of us right now, but not through dishonesty, timidity, or marketing strategies. This man radiates a glorious indifference to What People Might Say.
Just how does he do that?
Even naturally speaking, the mature, happy person is the one with enough self-confidence and inner freedom to refuse to worry about people-pleasing. But the Christian has something more than a healthy psychological resilience: he believes in somebody who is worth pleasing—but in all freedom, not out of a sickly craving for admiration.
So very many diverse elements are harmonized within this one man that people are starting to urge that we should temper our euphoria. He’s been called the ink-blot pope: we must just be projecting upon him what we want to see—or, in some cases, what we don’t. And it’s true: we’re just a couple of weeks into this Pontificate.
Yet Pope Francis does seem to be (almost) all things to (almost) all men, and with no loss of integrity, no lack of straight talk. It doesn’t mean everybody agrees with him about everything, but it does reveal that the Holy Spirit can create more intricate harmonies than we can. The Holy Father’s own words on the subject bear repeating:
Only the Spirit can stir diversity, plurality, multiplicity and at the same time make unity. Because when it’s us who decide to create diversity we create schisms and when it’s us who decide to create unity we create uniformity, leveling.
One of his very first remarks to the assembled cardinals after his election included the same idea. Maybe it will become a theme of his. I hope so. I hope we can all learn to give the Holy Spirit credit for a little imagination, instead of limiting ourselves to crowing about how He agrees with us on pastoral matters or disagrees with our opponents on economic theory.
Now that I’m off politics, though, I’ll be needing something else to fill my time. Suggestions welcome!