He’s a conservative, but a Jesuit who has compassion on single mothers, and kisses the feet of AIDS patients.
No, wait, he’s a liberal, but he says the idea of “gay marriage” is “a machination of the Father of Lies” and outspokenly defends the right to life even of babies conceived in rape.
Well, but he’s a conservative—but the son of an immigrant railway worker who eschews the episcopal palace for a small apartment, rides the bus,
and cooks his own meals.
Or maybe he’s a liberal—but he puts a premium on doctrinal orthodoxy. And a 76-year-old man with a single lung who radiates peace and strength.
Oh, never mind.
We all understand that the labels “conservative” and “liberal” have their uses. Sometimes they’re meant as simple synonyms for “orthodox” and “dissenting.” Their shorthand function is handy.
But it’s something else to rely on them out of pure laziness or a stubborn attachment to other people’s stale, warmed-over thoughts.
Some people, like our already beloved Pope Francis, make it more obvious than others, but a habit of labeling the human person can make you stupid. The more deeply ingrained it gets, the more you can see only what you expect to see, and the more implausible your attempts to explain away the rest. The further you wander from reality.
In The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis creates a character named Uncle Andrew.
Unexpectedly transported to the land of Narnia, he’s inspired by visions of how much buying and selling he could do there, and how far his earthly life might be prolonged, if only he could kill Aslan and the land’s other inhabitants and settle down to enjoy a lucrative career.
He begins by being able to perceive that Aslan is talking, and not just growling,
but he ends by losing his ability to hear the words (which had made him “think and feel things he did not want to think and feel”). "The trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are,” explains Lewis, “is that you very often succeed.”
What I would like to tell all the pundits who unthinkingly parrot stories that fit into their endlessly recurring templates is not that they ought to be more conservative, or more orthodox, or more charitable, but just this:
People are more interesting than you think!
An intellectual who radiates human warmth, or a priest who has a heart for both the poor and the unborn—at once pro-social justice and pro-life—only seems like a walking paradox to us because we’re trying to reduce him to our stunted mental compartments.
But it gets worse. Our categories limit not only what we can know about other people but what we ourselves can become.
I’m reminded of Bl. John Paul’s point in Veritatis splendor: that the thou shalt not’s present us with a lower limit—but there is no upper limit. Pope Francis gives the impression of a man who’s been letting the Holy Spirit do what He will with him. The result looks like a contradiction to us but is actually a fully developed human being.
Here’s how Pope Francis himself explained it—though he wasn’t Pope at the time, and he certainly wasn’t talking about himself. But listen to this (emphasis mine):
One of the early Fathers of the Church wrote that the Holy Spirit «ipse harmonia est», He Himself is harmony. He alone is author at the same time of plurality and of unity. 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.
I couldn’t have said it better.