The Pope Francis hype from a few weeks ago has died down. Around the time he was visiting my radio channel surfing one day landed me on Rush. I listened for a few minutes as Rush tried to figure out whether Francis was a Marxist or not. It was amazing to see that Rush could not figure Francis out.
The reason people like Rush have trouble with the Pope is that they see everything through a Liberal-Conservative, Democrat-Republican lens. It seems the rhetoric goes that one side is pretty much all right while the other side is all wrong.
I am convinced the reason many of us like the Pope is that he resists this simplistic dichotomy. Maybe “resists” is the wrong word since, coming from a different culture, he was not raised with it like we in the USA have been.
Of course, the Christian faith does not fit into such a divide either. As much as we think it does just shows how we have allowed American political discourse to hijack our theology and ethics.
I recently finished Francis’ second encyclical, On Care for Our Common Home. The Pope spends a lot of time in this book talking about what is wrong with our environment and then goes on to build a strong case for why care of God’s creation should be a central concern for all Christians. While the environment is the focus of the book, the Pope ties it into other issues such as poverty and life.
Yes, “and life.” This Pope, like previous popes, is pro-life and pro-traditional family. I am surprised for the media love affair with this Pope, though part of it is surely that they either ignore or do not notice that he lines up with the tradition of the Church on these issues. His words on environment and his criticism of capitalism may get applause from one side and anger from the other, but his words on life and family ought to flip the sides applauding and jeering.
Now, I am not a Roman Catholic. But I have found much to like in the work not just of this Pope, but in the previous two. Beyond that, there is a depth of spiritual knowledge to be found in the medieval mystics that is beneficial to any Christian. Whether reading a contemporary Pope or Theresa of Avila or John of the Cross, I find a feast compared to the fast-food produced by much of what qualifies as “Christian living” nowadays.
Further, I am challenged by the Pope and these other writers. Living in American culture, I feel myself pulled to one side or the other. I acknowledge the temptation to fall in line, to be a good “liberal” or a good “conservative.” My honest hope and prayer would be to allow my theology and ethics to be shaped by Jesus, primarily, and by the universal Christian tradition second. On a day to day basis I may fail, and with another election season ramping up I am praying I fail less.
One practice I will continue, which I hope will keep my soul sane, is to continue to read the classics of Christians long dead. Right now I am working on the Life of St. Martin of Tours, a man who left the Roman military to become a monk. I am also reading George MacDonald, a 19th century Scottish preacher who influenced Lewis. Basically, any Christian work that is not a product of our culture wars is where I find sustenance.
If you want to start this same journey, I can do no better than suggest Pope Francis’ two books: On the Care for Our Common Home and the Joy of the Gospel.