Pope Francis is a celebrity, taking over mainstream magazines and news stations, generating talk all over the globe about his actions and the Catholic Church. Yet he is also an enigma, a wild card, a man full of surprises, something he has in common with Jesus.
The Pope’s trip to the U.S., as expected, produced a plethora of opinions, sentiments and articles (like this one!), with varied conclusions. One thing that stood out to me was how our Holy Father backs liberal causes directly and conservative causes subtly. It’s true, no matter which way you look at it, and pretty mind-boggling for some of his flock, who are out on the battleground of these conservative causes. Yet I think he has good reason to do so, and just as God’s ways are not our ways (Is 55:8), so too the Pope’s ways are not always our ways.
A Man on a Mission
Maybe Pope Francis’s mission wasn’t directly with President Obama, with the United Nations, etc. Yet he is on a mission, as he himself stated on the White House lawn: “I will also travel to Philadelphia for the Eighth World Meeting of Families, to celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and the family at this, a critical moment in the history of our civilization.”
It seems the pope knows marriage and family are the pillars that are truly at stake in our day and age. He knows President Obama stated at the beginning of his campaigns he wouldn’t rest until he got “equal rights” for homosexuals and now the Supreme Court consecrated gay marriage, which sets the tone for not only the U.S. and for the world. As disheartening as this may be, maybe the pope’s mission does not deal directly with Obama’s law-making. His mission consists of celebrating and supporting the institutions of marriage and family.
Although he is a man focused on his mission, he knows how to include everyone, how to make people uncomfortable so as to get them thinking. Why is the pope always so focused on the environment? Maybe it’s a bridge, a language that our era understands and a topic that sheds light on other more intimate, complex topics. He said so at the United Nations:
“Consequently, the defense of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si’, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136).”
John Paul II already spoke of this technocratic domination of nature as linked to the technocratic domination of our bodies in his Theology of the Body. Christopher West explains in the preface of Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body:
“Yet, the full greatness of John Paul II’s vision only emerges when one sees his concern for spousal love in the larger context of his concern about our age, above all for the question of scientific knowledge and power over nature, that is, the characteristically modern question of ‘progress’. He argues that ‘the essence of the Church’s teaching’ about contraception lies in a more critical judgment about ‘the domination of the forces of nature’ by human power (TOB 123:1).”
Perhaps Pope Francis’s insistence of the culture of care and care for creation is a good way for people also to understand more “conservative” issues, like the care of our bodies.
Conquer Evil with Good
There is no doubt this pope is positive and uplifting. In all his speeches during his American visit, he started out by affirming what is good. He gave examples of American heroes to Congress and examples of U.N. heroes and principles to the United Nations. So seems to be his approach to these pillars of marriage and family. Instead of conquering evil with evil, with negativity, with reproach, he conquers evil with good (Rm 12:21). As he said to Congress:
“I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”
The family is very threatened, but he is lifting up its richness and beauty with his visit to the World Meeting of Families, his family catechesis on Wednesdays, the Synod on the Family, touching upon it again and again.
Pope Francis is not a star, as he himself discloses. He is not a politician, in the negative sense, pleasing the crowds and using his power to feed his pride. Instead, he is a man being watched by the whole world, with Peter’s keys in his hands, as he prayerfully treads the world’s turbulent waters, guiding us all in the Church’s ship to salvation.