The Personalist Project

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.)

Leaving political junkiehood behind doesn’t mean I plan to keep quiet in the public square.  This is an especially good time for people who believe in life, love, marriage, and freedom to be noisy.

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!

Comments (3)

Max Torres

#1, Mar 23, 2013 7:32am

Suggestion: Go visit your husband in Barcelona.

I like the idea of a glorious indifference to what people think.  

I especially liked this sentance: "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."

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Mar 23, 2013 8:58am

Devra, I, too, have felt repelled by politics and, at the same time, emboldened to bring more Truth, especially moral truth, into the public square.

One of things about the new pope that has arrested my attention is the number of times already in his short pontificate that he's mentioned the problem of our poor relation to creation.  

Being a Republican, I am accustomed to dismissing the bogus alarms, lying propaganda, and destructive agenda of the environmentalist movement.  But I can't help agreeing with the Pope that our relationship to creation is badly out of whack.  We've lost all reverence for it and its beauty.  We've abused and exploited and defaced it, which is bad for humanity.

I'm wondering what he's going to propose on that front, and what effect it might have in our poor world.

Devra Torres

#3, Mar 23, 2013 2:24pm

Max Torres:  Why, thank you, I think I will...

Katie, yes, stewardship of creation is clearly an integral part of the Faith--it's right there in the first book of the Bible and in the Catechism.  When we're talking about real concern for nature, not the ideology that considers us a cancer on the face of the planet, we can wholeheartedly embrace it.  It doesn't require any compromise at all.  It's legitimate common ground.

Sign in to add a comment, or register first.

Forgot your password?