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Pope Francis is in America! Alleluia!

Of course, what he has to say doesn’t sit well with everyone. Someone over at Fox has already decried him as a “false prophet,” because Francis chooses to talk about stewardship of the earth and refuses to withhold forgiveness to those whom a certain segment of inflexible Pharisees think ought to be punished for life. (Hint: The “guilty” are all women. And I put that word in quotes because who am I to judge?) Others, on the most liberal end, complain that Francis doesn’t say enough — about women in the Church, about abuse of children by priests. Poor Francis. The guy can’t win.

And yet he has won, by choosing his topics and sticking to them tenaciously. He cannot be everything to everyone, and he knows this. So he looks to Christ and chooses two places where we humans consistently fall down: In care of the poor and in care of our planet. In both cases, we allow greed to supersede the greater good. And, as anyone who listened to the Pope’s speech to Congress knows, Pope Francis stands for the greater good.

He also stands for the Golden Rule. “This Rule points us in a clear direction,” said Francis in his Congressional speech. “Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.”

What does all this mean? It’s simple. If the United States were in terrible turmoil, was a place in which you could not make a living, a place where you were in daily danger of being killed by the government, how would you want the people of other countries to receive you?

If you were chosen as guardian of something that needed to endure for countless generations to come, how would you treat that thing? Would you exploit it for a quick buck now, or treat it with gentleness and care?

If you were a sinner — and we all are — would you want forgiveness? Is there anything that God cannot forgive?

What Francis speaks is Christ-centered, Gospel-centered common sense. Let us rejoice that we have a Pope who speaks for the poor, who challenges those in power, who will not be shut up by nay-sayers who call him a false prophet.

Because that’s just what they said about Jesus.

 

For every cause, there is a backlash. Express dismay at the killing of African lions, and you will inevitably hear, “Who cares about lions? What about the poor?” Express compassion for immigrants, and someone in the crowd will doubtless pipe up, “Forget about immigrants! What about our veterans?” Whatever cause one takes up, whichever banner one chooses to fly, someone out there is ready to criticize.

As if there isn’t enough love and concern for everyone. As if human caring had limitations, a “use-by” date, or came in tiny bottles that could never be refilled. The truth is that God is love, unlimited love, and God courses this love through us and to us, to be sent out of ourselves and into the world in great gushing floods. There is no using up love.

There is also no limit on suffering. People suffer — children, the elderly, all races, all creeds. Animals suffer. The environment suffers. At times, it can seem overwhelming. That is where God comes in.

God has given each one of us finely tuned sensitivities toward certain sufferings. Some of us feel keenly for animals. Others feel a bond with those suffering from a particular disability, physical or mental. The point is, there are no wrong answers. Just because your neighbor chooses an interest in politics as a means of social change while you would rather help out at the soup kitchen doesn’t make either of you less than. All caring is important. And all means of caring — whether it’s hands-on or in the silence of prayer — matters.

Instead of chiding one another, why not celebrate the diversity of caring, the multiplicity of channels for the outpouring of love? In the end, we all have the same goal in mind: the betterment of the world. That’s good. That’s what our mission on earth is, as human beings. We are meant to love, built to love. And no two persons are going to do it in quite the same way.

And that’s okay.

Of late, the popularity of Pope Francis has plummeted, particularly in the U.S. I guess some people (particularly Conservatives) don’t like what he has to say. Which is really funny when you think about it — because there’s nothing that Francis is saying that hasn’t been said before, by Jesus himself.

Feed the poor? Check. The rich man will not get into heaven unless he changes his ways? Check. Blessed are the suffering and outcast? Yep, that too. Honestly, you’d think the Pope was saying something radical. Anyone who’s read the Gospels knows who the real radical was and is. It’s why Jesus was put to death: Instead of leading an army against the Romans, He took the side of the marginalized. He wasn’t what the people of the time expected from a savior. Nor is Francis what you might expect from a Pope. He eschews pomp and circumstance for humility and simplicity. He doesn’t try to be popular.

Just as Jesus riled up the powers-that-be, Francis disconcerts the mighty. As well he should. Who said being a Christian was going to be easy? Anyone who thinks so is barking up the wrong tree (in the medieval sense, where “tree” meant “cross”). It is the Pope’s job to disconcert. That is how change occurs.

And, as ever, we need to change. Thousands and thousands of years post-Christ and what have we learned? We still choose war over peace, division over communion, and money over just about everything else. We still lack in love. We would still crucify Jesus for not being what we want.

If Christ came back tomorrow, I daresay he would be even less popular than Francis, especially in America, a country that many (especially those in power) call “Christian,” a country that claims to be “one nation under God.” Which begs the question: Do we really know what being Christian means?

Look to Francis for answers. And if you don’t like those answers, feel free to be disconcerted. You should be.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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