Beauty and Ugliness

Beauty and Ugliness November 7, 2013

The other day, Pope Francis welcomed a severely disfigured man and kissed him.

At almost the same time this was happening, yet another Reactionary was complaining on FB about the huge problem and danger this man is and complaining about various people who, like me, love this man deeply.  At one point he rolled his eyes in sarcastic disgust and declared that if Maloney (he meant Cardinal Mahony) were pope we would defend whatever *he* did too.

It was an epic illustration of the incredible lack of discernment that has irked me from the start of the Francis-bashing.  Somebody who says something like this is not, contrary to his assumption, offensive to me because I believe every jot and tittle, every slightest thought and deed of the pope–any pope–is beyond question.  It is offensive to me because you frankly have to be not just a moral imbecile, but stone blind, not to be able to tell the difference between a corrupt prelate like Mahony, marinating in wealth, corruption, deceit and vain egoism, and the man in the picture above, who has served his flock faithfully, lived modestly and shown more pastoral care for the least of these in his little finger than Mahony has demonstrated in his whole body.

It does not take a blind devotion to ultramontanism to grasp this elementary distinction.  It only takes the sense God gave a goose.  All the world can see it in a picture like the one above.  And yet, in one subculture in the Church, one regularly runs into the dark suspicion that this pope is one of the gravest threats the gospel faces, that he is morally indistinguishable from Mahony, and that anybody who defends the proposition that he is a beautiful witness to the faith is a lickspittle ultramontanist who is blind to the terrible threat he poses.

It’s that sort of massive and incredible lack of discernment that is far uglier than anything in that picture.

I love this man, not because he is the pope and incapable of sin or error, but because he is obviously, beautifully, plainly a very good man.  And this photo shows why.  He inspires me and puts me to shame.  There is nobody on the world stage who champions Christ as he does in this hour.  That Reactionaries have spent the time since his election busying themselves with judgment, complaint, accusation, and handwringing and not with listening and learning is a judgment entirely on them, not him.  Enough already.  Look. Learn. Imitate.  We’ve been given an astonishing gift in this man–one well beyond our desserts. Let say thank you to God and then look around for something good to do, as he does.

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  • merichiara

    Very well stated Mark!

  • KyPerson

    Pope Francis is a good man, a kind man. This brought tears to my eyes and I’ve added that poor man to my prayer list.

  • orual’s kidnred

    ‘Ah, but you see, simpleton, this is merely a stunt to solidify his fanbase!’

    ‘Ah, but you see, simpleton, this is merely a stunt to mollify his enemies!’

    ‘Ah, but you see, simpleton, this is merely a stunt to impress non-believers!’

    ‘Ah, but you see, simpleton, this is merely a stunt to impress believers!’

    ‘Ah, but you see, simpleton, this is merely a stunt to generate…er, buzz!’

    ‘Ah, but you see, simpleton, this is how the ANTICHRIST works in teh wohrl!! Beware, ye lemmings, bewaaare!!!!’

    • ivan_the_mad

      Ha! I cannot read this without thinking of A Canticle for Leibowitz:

      Joyfully the mobs accepted the name, took up the cry: Simpletons! Yes, yes! I’m a simpleton! Are you a simpleton? We’ll build town and we’ll name it Simple Town, because by then all the smart bastards that caused all this, they’ll be dead! Simpletons! Let’s go! This ought to show ’em! Anybody here not a simpleton? Get the bastard, if there is!

      • orual’s kindred

        LOL! Sancta Maisie, interride pro me 😀

  • capaxdei

    I first heard the Pope Francis story from an atheist who was deeply impressed, and he heard it from an atheist who was moved to tears.

    That’s not salvific faith, of course, but it’s better than a kick in the bum.

    • ppeter

      How do you know it’s not salvific faith? I don’t know how anyone could know that without a Godlike reading of hearts.

      • capaxdei

        I know, without a Godlike reading of hearts, that being impressed by Pope Francis is not having faith in Jesus Christ because I know that being impressed isn’t having faith and that Pope Francis isn’t Jesus Christ.

        • chezami

          Just so. This is a classic illustration of Weddell’s point about our tendency to rush from mere curiosity or openness the assumption of saving faith.

  • freddy

    Need more caffeine.
    When I first read your post I thought that *Cdl. Mahoney* was the disfigured man Pope Francis was embracing. And I thought, “Sure, why not; repent and be saved!” Well, maybe someday! Still, this is a beautiful picture, and the Church continues to live in a time of great blessing.
    A little off topic: I stopped to chat with a neighbor yesterday and found out that it was his birthday. And what he likes to do on his birthday is go out and serve others. He wasn’t telling me this to “toot his own horn,” in fact he downplayed his good work to describe what a wonderful family he’d met and how much love he saw in their (poor) home. My heart is still doing fireworks and my eyes tearing up. How good God is!

    • Fr. Denis Lemieux

      Actually, I would say that your humorous misreading of the post is actually something we could all stand to meditate on. It is too easy, confronted with the manifest ugliness of Mahoney (or, ahem, any other person/group who are behaving badly), to turn away in disgust or to call him (or them) whatever nasty name we can think of. We are called to embrace in compassion, not turn away in disgust. Food for thought and prayer…

      • Paxton Reis

        Exactly. Jesus loves Cdl. Mahoney so we are to do so too.

  • Rosemarie


    Yes, the ultramontanism charge is quite tiring. Orthodox Catholics who defend the current pope are the same ones who defended his predecessor, yet we never heard charges of “ultramontanism” hurled by Reactionaries because of the defense of Benedict XVI.

    Pope Francis seems to be a sign of contradiction to many Catholics who were perhaps a bit complacent under the last pope (or even the last two popes). I guess God likes to shake us out of our complacency every once in a while. The last big “shaking” was the Scandal, which peaked about ten years ago; maybe God figures we’re due for another one. Some seemingly good Catholics were shaken right out of the Church the last time; the thought that even more may fall now bothers me.

    • She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named

      How is Pope Francis a sign of contradiction? He has done nothing that contradicts the faith. Now I will allow that his pastoral style is contradiction from that of his predecessor, but that hardly makes Francis a sign of contradiction. If any Catholics “fall” away from the Church because of anything Francis has or has yet to do, then it has less to do with Francis being a sign of contradiction and everything to do with the them putting faith in a man and not Christ. As Mark (and countless others) has said many times over, the Church is made up of sinful men. That is why our focus should always and ever be on Christ and Him crucified. That said, I think the Holy Spirit knew exactly what He was doing by selecting Francis because he has done many times over in his short pontificate what we are all called to do and that is to point others to Christ by our lives.

      • Josh

        I think there is a misunderstanding of the term.

        • Rosemarie


          That Wikipedia article gives a decent explanation of the term. I like that it points out how Bl John Paul II was a “sign of contradiction” as well, though in a different way. Also that the entire Church functions as such. Indeed, as followers of the One Who described Himself as “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of scandal,” we arguably should all be “signs of contradiction.

      • Marthe Lépine

        I think she means a “sign of contradiction” in a similar way as Jesus was a “sign of contradiction, not about whether Pope Francis says or does anything that contradicts the faith, but more about the various “contradictory” reactions to what he is doing or saying. There are people who appear to strongly feel that what Pope Francis is saying and doing contradicts their own sense of what the faith, or the Church, should be.

        • Rosemarie


          What Marthe said.

          Nothing Pope Francis has done contradicts the Faith. That’s not the meaning of the term “sign of contradiction.”

  • Sue Murphy Umezaki

    Amen! Preach it!!

  • ivan_the_mad

    “He inspires me and puts me to shame.” He is providing a magnificent witness, and I find that I yet have much to learn.

    I recall a passage from Sacred Mysteries by Fr. D. Smolarski, S.J.: “It is too easy to turn worship into a strictly verbal exercise, especially in our rationally-oriented Western culture. We hear words, we speak other words, we ponder these words and come to conclusions, and, for many people, this is the sum of their experience of worship. Unfortunately, what many people hear or say often does not affect their hearts. It remains on the level of their brains and does not touch them as whole persons.”

    Applied to this post, the quote is taken out of context, but I think it is suited because Francis’ witness moves one to remember that liturgy demands a response in the form of ministry or mission. Francis’ heart is clearly affected; would that mine was in like manner!

  • Vince

    “He inspires me and puts me to shame.” This is so true for me, the Pope is a threat to my complacency.

  • Stu


    Have you ever thought of embracing these “reactionaries” that you regularly crusade against in a similar manner that Francis embraced the disfigured man? Seems to me that you can’t get past the “ugliness” of their spiritual challenges to show them charity even when they don’t to you. Perhaps the proper course of action if we truly “get Francis.”

    • orual’s kindred

      Well, perhaps embracing them would at times require pointing out their spiritual challenges, in order to help them work on these difficulties. Besides, don’t many people (not just reactionaries!) say anger that is a justified response to certain situations (at times citing Our Lord’s actions of overturning tables, etc)? It’s a difficult situation, presenting many sorts challenges. However, I think perhaps people involved in these discussions, through grace and prayer, should have some recognition of what’s going on, and continue living out the Faith 🙂

      • Stu

        There is “pointing out” and then there is chastising over and over.

        At the end of the day, I think we have to ask ourselves, “What are we trying to achieve?” That should be a guide in our chosen method of engagement. I’m not confident the continued “tit for tat” is very productive. In fact, I think it only makes things worse. But again, what are we trying to achieve?

        • orual’s kindred

          I’m not confident the continued “tit for tat” is very productive.

          I know! It’s so much better to simply consider what’s being said, instead of reading in implications that no one is making 🙂

          • Sam Schmitt

            I have the same question as Stu. What exactly is the point of a post like this? (I’m not reading any implications into anything, just asking a question.)

            Anyone care to take a stab at this?

            • orual’s kindred

              I’m not sure what ‘post’ here means, whether the blog article, or my comment/s, so I guess I’ll be taking two stabs at this 😀

              Stab the First: Regarding the blog post, while I am certainly not our esteemed host, it would seem that the blog post is a call to people who think, among other things, that the Pope is making ‘confused moral time even more confused.’ (This is a comment in the article linked in a previous post below.) And people who cannot distinguish Pope Francis from immoral/heretical leaders in the Church are, indeed, missing quite a lot. Now, most of these people tend to behave in the ways that our blog post would describe reactionaries to behave. However, I have heard similar complaints about the Pope from people who others might consider to be liberal Catholics. So, I would think this post addresses them as well, for in regards to this topic, they are acting like reactionaries too! And for those that do not act this way in this specific subject but perhaps happen to agree with them on other matters, why, then, praise God! That is truly great! The message is not directed at them.

              Stab the Second: I was talking about how pointing out people’s spiritual difficulties and deformities requires, involves, pointing out. I said that this is something that people, not jsut reactionaries, recognize when it comes to other topics. And this is not about dishing stuff back and forth at whoever. I was talking about challenges that occur in conversations, which are challenges to all involved. And which, perhaps, in less emotionally/ideologically-driven topics, most people would have no problem seeing. What I was talking about is also not directed to those who do not have the particular difficulties under discussion, however much they identify with the people that do.

              I think that’s as much I can come up with so far. I may or may not take more stabs later 🙂

            • chezami

              My points:

              1. This pope is a beautiful gift.
              2. Reactionaries: Instead of wasting time blathering about his “cold dead eyes” or obsessing over trivia, or calling him “demonic” or declaring him a “horror” or busily planting seeds of despair that he is just about to overturn the Faith or telling everybody to ignore him or, most recently, showing the utter cluelessness of comparing him to Mahony, why not, instead, repent of this ingratitude, thank God, and then get on with doing something useful?
              3. Everybody Else: You are right in perceiving in Francis a very good man and a faithful witness to Jesus Christ. Do not be intimidated by the accusation of Reactionaries who call you “ultramontanist” for loving him. They have, multiple times, demonstrated a gigantic anti-charism of discernment that shows they have not one clue what they are talking about when they nitpick, accuse, and defame him. Don’t let yourself be bullied by them.

              • orual’s kindred

                ‘Cold dead eyes’? I thought it was Pope Benedict who was given sole proprietary rights to that tagline? Will people start calling Pope Francis Pope Palpatine too? Just how alike are these two anyway?!

                …or…*shudder*…does this mean the Clone Wars have indeed begun?


                • chezami

                  Begun, this Clone War has.

                  • orual’s kindred

                    This is the first time I am hearing this, and I am outraged! The Trade Alliance has failed me yet again!

  • Jody Haaf Garneau

    So true Mark. This image (as have some of the others of Pope Francis with the cripple and ill especially) just speaks to me of Biblical images — like visual allusions to Christ drawing out and being drawn toward those who needed him; spreading mercy and love. If you read the comboxes in the secular media, this man is converting countless hearts by his living example (I see this in our RCIA program too). The world hears and understands this language of mercy he is speaking. It is thirsty for it! I have to wonder at the fear and even displeasure being voiced from some corners of the Catholic Church who have no eyes to see.

  • Jordan

    I can’t recall where I saw this headline (and I hadn’t had time to click on the article right then), but I saw something to the effect stating that relationship/attachment to parents more important than formal religious education in determining whether children remain Catholic as they age (if the parents are raising them that way to begin with, that is). What do you know, being able to trust and feeling loved actually is worth more to human beings than being formally instructed and admonished from those they do not even know before they can “earn” the right to be loved. It doesn’t guarantee anything, and it’s not love to lie and say sin is not sin, but if someone knows you care, it’s a lot easier to be open to your Christian witness. Papa Francis builds relationships, even if only briefly with a smile that says “I am so happy to see you!” (imagine if you’d never been looked at that way, or at least not in a long while, like this man probably experienced, and suddenly it happened again), and puts himself that much closer to working with God to win hearts (not that he’s the only Pope to have done so). I love that about him.

    • Stu

      Papa is clearly attempting to stress that aspect and that is certainly needed. (Though I think his predecessors did that just as much). But setting such an example is not the only thing that people look for from the Pope.

      Many want (and need) stability especially in a World that seems to be rapidly changing and not necessarily for the better. In the great scheme of things, is that anything new? Certainly not but it is “new” to the people who are living in it right here and now. I think those people (of which I would include almost everyone) want clarity and reinforcement of Church
      teaching. They want to see the Church as the bulwark of Truth against an ominous tide.

      I’m not saying for one bit that Papa is anything but a “loyal son” to the Church. But there is pastoral need out there for another segment of the Church that needs his attention as well and I don’t believe it has to be an “either/or” sort of thing.

      • Jordan

        Well that’s good, because I don’t believe I set anything up as an “either/or” thing, and neither are most people who admire something Francis does doing that. And I don’t think he’s neglecting the “other segment” of the Church at all, not that I feel it’s right to speak about a seperate segment that cares about the meat of Church teaching, as opposed to those who, what, appreciate Francis’s way of reaching out (as if they don’t care about actual teachings)?

        • Stu


          You know, just because someone makes a point on something you said, it doesn’t follow that they are either accusing you of something or contradicting you.

          As to whether you “feel” as though he is neglecting some other segment of the Church, isn’t that not the point? There are clearly some that have some angst about things. Aren’t we supposed to help them overcome that?

          • Jordan

            I’m not “uneasy” in the least, we’re strangers on the internet and it’s just a discussion on a blog. Nothing earth shattering going on here, I don’t think. I had something to say in reply, just like you, and I felt no accusation (it’d also be silly for either one of us to feel threatened by someone disagreeing with us on the internet), I merely called attention to the “either/or” phrase, because you used it first, and I wanted to make myself clearer. Now I think that’s about all the commentary on the nature of comments and not the actual blog post I’m interested in. Have a good day 🙂

      • Chesire11

        I basically agree with what you are saying, my only comment is that I think that we, as Catholics, need to recognize that we have weathered a storm, and now it is time for us to stop viewing ourselves as the bulwark of Truth, and understand that we are borne up, and carried along by the inexorable, irresistible tide of Truth.

        The only thing to fear, is the fear which obscures this fact.


  • Jen

    How about showing us the beauty of Pope Francis without pointing out the “failings” of others? It would be much easier to be moved by what he says and does without all the other stuff.
    My grandma used to say if you donn’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. There wasn’t an exception for “they said something bad first.”

  • How do you tell that somebody is rolling their eyes on facebook? Seriously, I don’t know how you do that through that particular medium unless they do /eyeroll tagging which is not very common. But then, you didn’t give a link for us to see what was actually said.

    Or is this a reactionary that is living rent free in your mind? If you cannot see the Pope act without imagining up hypothetical reactionaries, you have a problem that is separate from and only marginally related to the failure of moral discernment in real reactionaries that actually exist and have actually made fools of themselves.

    The Pope is the Pope and that means a very human amalgam of good and bad, just like everybody else. When he does good, praise him and imitate him. When he makes a mistake (as we all do) don’t praise him and don’t imitate him. If you think you actually can bring something productive to the party, you should even criticize him but only when criticism will actually make things better (a rarer condition than most of us like to think).

    Is that so hard?

    People, in my experience, take criticism better from people on their own side. By placing yourself as opposing these people you label reactionaries, you lessen the effect of your own criticism of them. Is that something you intended to do?

    • Mike Petrik

      Yeah, once I realized what in the world FB was, I also was similarly puzzled. And while there might well be some tiny contingent of self-proclaimed uber-Catholics who are complaining irrationally and unfairly about the “danger” of Francis, the idea that such folks, however misguided, would take issue with the Pope’s embrace of a disfigured man, because he was disfigured, strikes me as wildly implausible.

  • LSpinelli

    There are people out in the far corners of the blogosphere who declared Francis to be the Beast’s False Prophet. I rolled my eyes, came here, and saw this. Like Satan or his minions would do a thing as inspiring and heartwrenching as this. I’m rolling my eyes again.

  • Jessica

    This image really moved me. My husband has a similar genetic disease (though his case is very mild) and his family wanted him to get sterilized before marrying me. Sometimes it really scares me knowing that should I ever have a child with a severe disfigurement that many people will look at him with revulsion and not love.

    • Colet C. Bostick

      You already are a testament to love over fear. You are like Francis, you are like Jesus. Blessings to you and your husband! Be not afraid!

  • Pavel Chichikov

    God bless the Holy Father, Pope Francis.

  • $16977560

    You may be a bit off on the “Reactionary” label. Such (you should excuse the word) pontifications seem to come from those who have bought into “Christianity PLUS”, as C.S. Lewis described in _Screwtape_. Where the PLUS becomes more important than the Christianity. It’s a good trick of Old Scratch. They think they’re still good Christians while merrily winging it toward Outer Darkness.
    Of course, my own PLUS is OK.

    • orual’s kindred

      Wrong! 🙂

  • MIchelle

    That is a seriously odd statement you made that a pope is incapable of sin. History does not bear out this belief, nor does common sense. While I normally love your writing and find you level headed and wise, I can’t pretend to understand where you are coming from. – – – And the fact that Pope Francis is a deeply gentle, wonderful, good and decent man is obvious to me as well. No doubt he will someday be named a saint . . . but as Deacon Greg was noting on All Saints Day – – saints aren’t born that way, they become that way. Unlike Jesus, Pope Francis spends a lot of time reminding us that he is a sinner. I find that more compelling not less. Not to mention the fact that if he is incapable of sin as you suggest, he ought to be telling us that he used to be a sinner. In the present tense, either you are not completely correct, or he is not telling the truth . . . which would of course be the not sinning question- – – This all to prove that I really belong in a closet, as I will never manage to fit in with the really amazing Catholic thinkers that I admire, such as yourself.

    • chezami

      Go back and read it again. I didn’t say the Pope is incapable of sin.

  • Katalina

    I would like to know why people who simply do not like or agree with what this pope says or does are always called Reactionaries? Instead of resorting to name calling why not address the issue which is he is causing mass confusion and the election results in Chicago prove this. Or maybe you are Professional Catholics like Pope Emeritus Benedict has said in his own book interview. Stop all the name calling.

    • chezami

      They aren’t. People who call him a “horror” or who wish him dead, or who can’t tell the difference between him and Mahony, or who call him a heretic, are called Reactionaries. So are people who think that being misquoted makes the person being misquoted guilty of the misquote. Gotta love the “Professional Catholic” name calling combined with the handwringing about name calling.