I’ve been alternately amused, frustrated, angry, and sad over the last two weeks as I’ve watched people try to label Francis rather than understand Francis. It’s not enough for him to simply be a Pope. No, he’s got to have a political label too. And so the tug of war began.
He’s a liberal because he speaks about climate change, and income inequality, and ending the death penalty. No, he’s a conservative because he talks openly about the importance of a life of faith, is thoroughly pro-life, and believes passionately in the importance of a religiously formed conscience.
What is he?
People were almost frantic in their efforts to categorize this man. And that’s human nature. Because people don’t like surprises, or anxiety, or unpredictable behavior…especially in leaders. After all, if people can’t be categorized they become wild cards, uncontrollable. God forbid. And here comes Francis, always upsetting things. Just when you think you can use his authority to prove your point, and how right you are, and how wrong your enemies are…he goes and does something like meet with a county clerk from Kentucky in private.
Great break for the anti-gay marriage ‘true believers’, right? I mean, you couldn’t pray for better optics—the spiritual leader of 1 billion Catholic Christians makes time for Kim Davis, the ex-Catholic and quintessential church lady from Kentucky. Well, the Pope must agree with her, then, right? She was right to deny that marriage license to those gay men, right?
Immediately millions of people who were adoring the “progressive pope” the day before were jumping off his bandwagon as quickly as you could shout “judgmental.” And people who’d been busy bad-mouthing the pontiff because he’d spoken about the sin of unfettered capitalism were now back on board.
In all the jumping, though, most liberals and conservatives missed the fact that before Francis met with Davis he met with a friend who is openly gay, Yayo Grassi, along with Grassi’s partner of 19 years Iwan Bagus. Grassi said Francis had asked him to stop by so he could give his former student a hug. This too was a closed door meeting, the details of which were not shared with the general public—which is how closed door meetings generally work.
Well, now what? What good is Francis now? Because a good liberal wouldn’t meet with someone like Davis, and encourage her to be courageous, and a good conservative wouldn’t meet with a gay couple to give out hugs.
How about this as a possible explanation? Pope Francis is neither a Democrat nor a Republican. He is a man trying to live and love like Jesus. Wait, a religious leader who’s actually trying to practice what he preaches? Something like that, yes. Francis engages the political world, but refuses to be a politician. He cares about people, and not just the ones the press believes he should care about. He seeks understanding before agreement, and charity before consensus. And he’s much more interested in opportunities than optics—opportunities to encourage people to be good and do good…for the Good. And if some don’t like the way this looks, for instance who he meets with in private, than optics be damned. Kind of like that other radical who lived a couple thousand years ago in Galilee.
Francis talked a lot during his week in the United States. But his greatest sermon wasn’t spoken, it was lived. He once again refused to be categorized or cubby-holed—especially for the sake of petty politics and Pharisees. And I love him for it.