Pope Francis is currently in the United States for his first papal visit since being elected as the 266th Pope by the College of Cardinals two and a half years years ago. I have written about his visit, as have many, many journalists, bloggers, Christians, and others. I was musing this morning about a consistent theme that has been brought to the forefront in recent days: an overwhelming sense of surprise at Pope Francis’ decisions and actions.
My question to you is this: why are we so surprised by this man?
I think instead we ought to be surprised by our surprise.
Let me explain.
The Pope has elected to skip out on dining with members of Congress after his address and instead he will eat with and serve the homeless in D.C. This surprises people. He stopped his motorcade to bless a young boy who is physically handicapped and a 5-year old girl was able to stop the motorcade in Washington, D.C. in order to greet Papa Francesco. People were again surprised.
Here is a paragraph from my last piece about some of the Pope’s actions over the last two years:
“…much of the world has fallen in love with Pope Francis due to his own love for neighbors, strangers, and creation alike. We remember when he confessed his sins in public to a priest in St. Peter’s Basilica during Lent in 2014. We remember how he washed the feet of a young Muslim woman in 2013. We see his love of and commitment to creation care in Laudato si. Recently, he announced that priests will be ready to grant absolution for abortion in the Year of Divine Mercy, rather than reserving that right for bishops alone. Even more recently, he has encouraged parishes to offer asylum to refugees. The pope will have more opportunities to show the world what Christian-love-in-action looks like.”
As I previously stated in my first post on the Pope’s visit, Pope Francis shouldn’t be categorized as either conservative or liberal but as someone guided by a complete and consistent set of Christian ethics. His views on capitalism and economics mesh with his stance on the sanctity of life which coincides with his stance on caring for refugees and the displaced. He is directed by God’s love and seeks to spread that love with everyone he meets.
Simply put: when Christ is King nothing else matters. Or to borrow from Dave Ramsey, “When you live a life based on principle 99% of your decisions are already made.” Pope Francis is led by, filled with, and shares the love of God. Period. And when seen through this lens his actions make sense: suddenly dining with the homeless is more about sharing God’s love with them than with making a political statement; blessing someone who is physically handicapped or loving “the least of these” is indeed what our Lord commanded us to do.
The Pope’s actions are radical for two reasons: first, we live in a world where self-giving love is counter-cultural. Second, our lives as disciples of Christ don’t always match up with the Great Commandment to love God and to love people.
But what if such radical love could actually become common, ordinary, and part of everyday life?
What if we could stop remarking about the extraordinary love of Pope Francis and start living it out ourselves?
Let us stop being surprised by the Pope. Let us look at our own hearts and lives to see if we are truly extending God’s love into the world or if we are more comfortable letting others do the Kingdom work. It is refreshing, encouraging, and inspiring to see someone love in the way we have been called, but it should also be compelling. More than anything else, in my opinion, Pope Francis’ visit to America is a reminder that when you live a life based on God’s love, 99% of your decisions are already made.
Additional Note: I’ve received several comments on Facebook and my previous post regarding Pope Francis’ stance on certain issues: abortion, women’s ordination, marriage, etc. All of my posts are written from the standpoint of someone committed to ecumenism, and any posts I write about the Pope or the Catholic Church are written from an understanding of the theology and doctrine that have been the basis of that Church since its inception. As the old saying goes, you can’t expect a tiger to change his stripes. He is the Pope. While there are some differences between his papacy and others, he’s still the leader of the Catholic Church.
There will always be differences between my theological positions and the position of the Catholic Church on some issues, particularly women’s ordination. However, I have found Pope Francis to embody the love of Christ in a way that should inspire others.