I hear accolades of wonder and amazement every time we see the pope reaching out to the poor, washing feet of addicts, maintaining his vow of poverty, or telling us that the church should be more welcoming and forgiving. None of our gratitude goes undeserved and it is well placed towards these acts of love. The hope of reconciliation of the Catholic church, with the world, and with the East is something that should evoke thanksgiving for all Christians.
But it bothers me.
The positive reception of Francis is not unlike a person with an acute illness who has just been given hope that a new treatment will heal her. People don’t need treatment for sickness they don’t have.
It’s too easy to point to the hope of healing the Catholic church and the world from decades of financial mismanagement and the evil horrors of sexual abuse and pedophilia. We can too easily be dismissive, sit back, and say, “Praise God! They can fix their problems!”
The truth is that we are all sick. The genuine acts of love we hear and see from this pope reveal to all of us what spiritual healing looks like. But in that, we also see just how sick we are as people, cultures, and societies. With the number of school shootings, latest celebrity failures, consistent flow of violence and sexual dysfunction in the media, and our overall nastiness and cynicism in our ways of being with one another, we sometimes lose our ability to respond to others with love and compassion. When this happens, the mere sight of love and compassion is almost jarring to our messed up sensibilities.
Pope Francis bothers me, but not because of what we see him doing in his acts of compassion with others. What he is doing is not great at all. Each Christian is expected to do just as much. The fact that we see these acts as a great achievement is troubling. It is a signal that something is very wrong in the world. Pope Francis is showing us not only what love looks like, but he is showing us just how unloving the world has become.
That makes sense in that Christianity is a religion based on the fact that when God came to visit humanity, humanity decided it was best to kill Him.
The good news is that the Resurrection gives us hope. We do not have to be sick. We can choose little acts of compassion that will makes us and others well. Just seeing Pope Francis kiss the head of a diseased man is spiritually nourishing to us. How much more spiritually nourishing is it to our neighbors to do one nice thing today.