Francis is quite the case.
In a world after Amoris Laetitia, after supposed near-schism, after port-a-potties, it’s hard to think of a Francis beyond controversy, or at least the one of days past: the one scrutinized for embracing the deformed, for housing the homeless—the man in white.
But he lives on, and it is precisely we Catholics who forget this. Caught up in our controversies as we are, we forget that Pope Francis is, in fact, a global figure, one seen, one observed, by more non-Catholics than Catholics.
I was personally reminded of this during a recent conversation with a secular friend. In brief, she was clear: Francis is a reminder for her that there do exist religious people who transcend partisan politics, who stand in what a non-Christian can recognize as love (and is that not, in part, the definition of evangelization?). Global wars, dying refugees, a shattered nation, and, yes, Trump—in spite of these Pope Francis trods on and the world watches.Undeniably, the papacy of the digital age has its drawbacks. But what of the benefits? How many secular people look on and see both someone they can admire and, at the same time, someone who challenges their values? How many observe a man professing Christ and living what they can feel in their marrow to be love? How many remember that, indeed, there is a spiritual dimension to life—and one not merely beholden to chest-thumping and shouts—every time they see that old Argentine shuffle across a hallway or smile at a crowd?
Pope Francis is imperfect; that ought to be clear. But we, my fellow Catholics, are blind at times to what to others are his most obvious traits. Conversion is a slow thing; I can say that from experience. I cannot say whether or not Pope Francis will bring us many converts, or at least begin to help people be open to the workings of the Spirit. Regardless, I do know many watch him and joy in the reminder that faith can bring great love, difficult works, a spirit imbued with genuine laetitia. And that warms my heart.
For all his problems, for all our quarrels, I will say this: I am thankful for Pope Francis’ deep faith and joyous persona, for the hope he brings for the salvation of souls.