Sunday, May 12, 2013

Beginning with the Beautiful

Pope Francis praying at the Basilica of St. Mary Major
In two memorable months, Pope Francis has managed to capture the minds and hearts of people around the world.  This is not meant to take anything away from the brilliant papacy of beloved Benedict XVI, who was like a "scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven...who brings forth from his storeroom both the new and the old" (Mt 13:52).   But our new Holy Father has managed to delight believers and non-believers alike with something more.  But what exactly is it?

From the moment he stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter's, Pope Francis has been leading neither with Goodness nor with Truth, but with the Beautiful. Goodness is able to compel those who share a core set of assumptions and recognize a fundamental natural law; Truth is able to convince those who assume that life is reasonable and inherently meaningful.  But, in a post-modern context in which these very presuppositions have been largely deconstructed, the Beautiful is able to cut through the clouded confusion and the arid ambiguity.  For the Beautiful speaks first to the heart, as opposed to the will or reason, and therefore is able to inspire changes in both action and thought.  

The very choice of Francis as his name hearkened back to one of the most beautiful of all the saints:  Francis, the little poor man, who so wanted to identify himself with the poverty of Christ that he literally gave himself away; Francis, the joy-filled lover of God's creation, who saw the Creator reflected in all creatures great and small; Francis, the living icon of Christ, who understood that the Christian life is fundamentally an imitation of Christ and so was graced with the very wounds of the Savior. 

Like Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis seems to be a walking parable.  Each day there are moments and words and meetings and gestures through which the beauty of God's self-revelation in Christ seem to shine through, such as a recent surprise visit to the March for Life in Rome.  And, like his namesake, Pope Francis is not afraid to call for conversion from evil and sin--even in an age which has largely explained away personal sin.  The Holy Father has spoken repeatedly about "He who shall not be named," Satan, the father of lies and gossip and calumny (among other things).  Since Ugliness is the main threat to the Beautiful, Pope Francis has not been afraid to do call the beast a beast and to remind us all that we struggle "not with flesh and blood but with the principalities and powers" (Eph 6:12). 

He is also not afraid to remind us that Christ did not leave us orphans.  From the beginning of his Pontificate, Pope Francis has turned to person closest to Christ the King: the Queen Mother of Heaven and Earth.  Ever since the dying Savior gave his mother as mother of all the faithful ("Woman, behold your son" [Jn19:26]), the Church has turned to her for wisdom and guidance. And just as Blessed Mother Teresa famously said, "No Mother, no Son," Pope Francis seems to be saying, "Yes Papacy?  Then Yes to the Mother of our Lord!"  The Holy Father's decision to consecrate his pontificate to Our Lady of Fatima reminds us of Our Lady's 20th century call for ongoing personal transformation and a deeper commitment to Christ, which continues to form the foundation of the new evangelization at the start of the 21st century.

Even the way Pope Francis has seamlessly transitioned into using social media is beautiful.  With almost 2.5 million followers on Twitter, he has managed to do more inspiring, more teaching, and more shepherding in 140 characters or less than one could ever imagine.  Check out this list of his 37 Tweets so far:  In addition, as many people know, Pope Francis continues to befuddle many Vatican staff and insiders because he insists on speaking "off the cuff," or perhaps more fittingly, "from the heart."  This outstanding review of Pope Francis' Unmistakable New Voice includes classics such as, "The Church is a mother not a babysitter; the Church is a love story!"

The Beautiful attracts and draws us into an encounter with a deeper reality.  The Beautiful speaks to each of us in personal ways.  The Beautiful then opens us both to the Goodness we know we need to pursue and to the Truth which alone can set us free. 

To paraphrase a line that was coined at the election of John Paul II, Francis is not a pope from Argentina: He is a pope from Galilee.  He walks and talks with the joy and the freedom and the fearlessness of someone who has had an encounter that has transformed his life--as if he knows Someone who has conquered even Death itself.

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for Pope Francis and for the new evagelization around the world!


P.S.  If you haven't seen these brilliant commentaries from Fr. Barron, check out his thoughts some related themes in "Evangelizing through Beauty" and/or Pope Francis and the Religious Sense.  Fr. Barron highlights the fact that Pope Francis just "gets it":  a Shepherd must smell like his sheep, particularly those on the periphery!