I’m an emotional guy. This is no secret.
I’m known to break down in tears rather easily.
When our son was born, I cried like a baby when my parents arrived at our door with armloads of frozen meals to sustain us for a week.
To be fair, I think I was well within my rights in that particular occasion.
Still, I wasn’t altogether surprised to find myself overcome with emotions more than once during the coverage of Pope Francis’s American papal visit.
I cried when Francis kissed that baby dressed up like a Pope.
I cried when Francis embraced that severely handicapped man.
And I cried when Francis delivered his animated address to the World Meeting of Families from that gaudy stage on Saturday night.
He put me through the ringer.
I cry because to me, a newly-minted heart-on-the-sleeve Catholic, Francis is a distinctive picture of the living, vicarious, vicar of Christ.
Pope Francis is our living picture of Jesus, and that brings me to tears.
Because it seems, to me, like an awful gracious thing for God to do: to leave us a shepherd here on earth.
A guy carrying the stick. To lead the way.
It seems like a very good thing to do. And when I see the Pope doing these things it makes sense—deep down inside.
But here’s the other thing.
Amidst all the sordid coverage of the Pope’s visit it was alternatively fascinating and horrifying to watch the media (up here in Canada and down in the States) try to pin the Holy Father down.
You can’t put baby in a corner. Or something like that.
Because you can’t. And that makes sense.
Because Jesus, to His contemporaries, was absolutely vexatious.
He drove them nuts.
On the one hand, He declared their interpretations of God’s Law to be not going far enough,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Yet on the other hand, He is caught blatantly ‘breaking’ the Sabbath, declaring their laws to go too far.
Those who were, in their own estimation, perfectly poised to follow the Messiah as soon as he showed up, were completely puzzled by Him when he appeared.
He defied their categorization.
In more ways than one, Pope Francis emulated Jesus so perfectly during his papal visit to the United States.
An emulation so perfect that it left all of us, to some degree, shaking our heads.
And that’s likely how it ought to be.
Because, like Jesus, the Pope doesn’t play to traditional political or social values. Like Christ Himself, His Vicar comes to represent God’s Honest Truth. However we may like that, or not.
He comes to lament our lack of concern with the poor and impoverished living amongst us.
He comes to challenge attacks on the definition of marriage and God’s plan for man and woman.
He comes to lament our ambivalence towards the environment.
He comes to commend families—the reflection of the Holy Trinity—who are sticking it out in spite of all the challenges.
He comes to affirm the right to life of even the smallest, most helpless among us: the unborn.
And he does it all with great affection—and love.
…And with that he vexes both left and right.
As he should.
In the end, there is a lot we can learn from Pope Francis’s papal visit to the United States. For one thing, we can rest assured that the contingent of Catholics in America is strong. This was plainly clear. But also, like Jesus to His contemporaries, we should be thoroughly wary of trying to pin down this Pope.
Because, despite any claims laid to the contrary, Christ did not pander to special interest groups. Christ cannot be cleanly politicized as left or right of centre. And Christ kept everyone guessing—constantly.
And if Pope Francis is, indeed, His Vicar… Well, we should expect nothing less.