It happened again today: Someone told me she wasn’t Catholic, “but I really like your Pope.” I feel like I should start keeping track of these people – the not-Catholic-but-admiring-the-leader-of-Catholics. It’s actually pretty cool. For the first time in quite some time, being Catholic hasn’t meant being derided in my place of employment or the butt of jokes in editorial pages. And today, riding home on the bus in a rotten mood that I was spilling all over my seat mate, I think I figured out why. Pope Francis is kind. He’s genuinely a nice guy. You get the sense, listening to him, watching him, reading about him, that he honest-to-God (could it really be any other way?) cares about human beings. He’s so busy loving humanity he doesn’t have a lot of time for hectoring them.
This attitude of welcoming love is a natural draw. It makes people want to be like him. And that, me thinks, could be pretty darn powerful in this world of craziness. So many of my Catholic friends – and all the priests I challenged in my earlier post – want to emulate the Holy Father. But, more importantly, people who aren’t even Catholic do as well. That is pretty amazing and it could turn out to be life-changing in this crazy world.
We’ve had Jesus to emulate for centuries, but I think often we need a concrete here-and-now example of Jesus. We need what my friend Maria calls “God with skin on,” personal examples to show us Jesus and suggest (without any words at all) that maybe, that we can be that way, too. I see the pope doing what he does and, out of the depths of my soul, feel compelled to try to imitate that. This is proof of God for me, a yearning that has been absent for many years, a calling out to my best self. Pope Francis makes me want desperately to be a conduit of the Holy Spirit instead of the holier-than-thou.
Every day – every single dang day – riding the public bus, I have to fight a nasty urge to grab someone by the collar and say, “Get a grip, man! You can do better than this!” I have to battle an internal judge and jury making me critical of the drug addicts and the folks coming from meetings with their parole officers and the tatted-up kids with their saggy pants and expletive-laced conversations. I wonder if the pope ever felt or thought anything like that when he rode public transit in Argentina. Maybe. But I sense he used those moments for self-reflection and the practice of love.
One of my creative writing professors had one rule for writing workshops: Honest but kind. Yes, to call out the best in a writer, it was necessary to identify what wasn’t working in his or her piece. Otherwise, how could they ever improve? But you didn’t have to be a jerk about it. You didn’t have to be a bossy-pants or Grammar Nazi. And no matter what, you always – always – started with what was right with a piece before moving onto what you thought could be improved.
I think that sums up +Francis’ approach to the Papacy and what he was calling Catholics to in his interview last week. Take people where they are, he seemed to be saying, find God in them, help them see where Jesus is in their lives, and see where that leads. We all know that when someone is genuinely nice to us, when we can feel their good will toward us in our bones, it is much harder to dismiss their ideas or leadership. Church leaders of the recent past have frequently repeated the maxim of “Speak the truth in love.” I think Pope Francis turns that idea upside down and says, “Be love, and truth will eventually shine through that.”