That new Pope Francis documentary certainly commanded some attention. If you’ve been following him from the beginning, it’s hard to get too concerned about anything anymore. The press attention to his papacy has been so often guided by ideology. The progressive Left, so to speak — and even the more mainstream conventional version that perhaps doesn’t always see its worldview as such — has held on to hope that he is their way to a Church they are more comfortable with, one conformed to the values of the times rather than being conformed to the cross of Jesus Christ. That’s not to absolve people on the right, of course, some of whom miss the best of Francis because of the politicized lens through which everything is seen.
If Pope Francis hadn’t gone on about a right to a family, the comments wouldn’t have captured my attention for too long. In retrospect, I wonder if we all should have tried to compromise on same-sex unions, across the board — basic legal, financial, and medical rights for all kinds of relationships. That way, marriage wouldn’t have been redefined. Of course, I understand that this wouldn’t have been enough for many, and it probably wouldn’t have been successful. But it’s an approach, and it’s one that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio took in Buenos Aires.
We also know that when a person is in front of Pope Francis, he tends to be guided by a desire for you to know that you are loved by God and not outside the reach of His mercy. I rarely read or hear any of his words without that in mind. And there’s a consistency and a truth there through a succession of papacies.
The documentary was released the same week as the annual feast day of St. John Paul II, canonized as a saint by Pope Francis. In his first encyclical, JPII said,
Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This, as has already been said, is why Christ the Redeemer “fully reveals man to himself.”
Isn’t that a lot of what is going on in the world right now? We are looking for love in all the wrong places, including in politics, to be frank and honest about what is going on. I sometimes thank God that I still have the capacity to be surprised by the audacity of evil, because so many days, it can seem so ubiquitous. I confess to taking some consolation in people who declare themselves politically homeless. They are often voicing a desire to see politics shaped into the best of ourselves, when it sometimes seems to be the worst.
During the most recent presidential debate, I watched as NARAL Pro-Choice America (the organization formerly known as the National Abortion Rights Action league) tweeted against Donald Trump for separating children from families. Yes, this is not good. Nor is what their organization is about: violently and permanently pitting a mother against her unborn child. I know we are not supposed to put it that way in polite society, but that is what it is. And that is why I know more and more people who are voting for the America Solidarity Party or writing in someone with whom their conscience can live. Happy with the prospect of Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court? Maybe Leonard Leo from the Federalist Society is your write-in man. Or maybe you skip the third-party route and vote for Trump, for nominating her to the Court.
When I was a child, and quite the geek, if you asked me what my favorite holiday was, I’d have said Election Day. Never could I have imagined politics like this. And yet, my friend and colleague Richard Brookhiser, who writes some of the best history books, is forever reminding us that politics has been replete with dark moments. We just didn’t have to watch them play out on social media. And when there was violence, we weren’t taking it in quite in the same way, all of us.
If you were upset or celebrating or something in between at those headlines about Pope Francis, maybe take a look at some of his writings. Maybe take a look at Christ in the Storm: An Extraordinary Blessing for a Suffering World, a beautifully done volume from his March 27 Urbi et Orbi blessing for the world. We are a people in search of something greater than this moment, and there is something greater. That’s the most important aspect of Pope Francis. He’s a believer, and he wants you to be, too. Conversion is a process, and he will start where there might be an opening. And this is where our hope lies in turning things around in our suffering world.
Pope Francis tends not to get headlines when he says that Humanae Vitae — the infamous encyclical from Paul VI that warned about what the contraceptive pill would do to men and women and sex — was prophetic, as he did around the time of that coronavirus blessing. He’s not quite the revolution of anything but love that Rolling Stone once warned him he’d better be. There’s a great treasury for humanity in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Come taste and see — that could be the invitation he is seeking to extend.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.