There are some Christians and some Catholics specifically who are critical of what they see as Pope Francis’ “failure” in his message while visiting the U.S. Some people felt he was not “Christ centered” enough when speaking to bodies like the U.N. and Congress. Others felt he did not specifically address anti-Christian themes directly, such as same sex marriage and abortion. What must be understood are a couple of things:
1) The Pope knows he speaks to the world, and it is not all Christian and it is certainly not all Americans. His is a Universal audience and he is well aware of that.
2) The Pope knows that many non-Christians and people who hold no faith in a Supreme Being are very turned off by the words “Christian” and even “Jesus.”
That is so very sad to this Christian believer, but so very true. Both words have been used in error to describe people who a true Christian and who Jesus would not recognize. So, while with Catholic audiences, as in Mass or in speaking to Bishops or Catholic families, he can speak very directly of Jesus. And, of course, the Mass is totally focused on the Incarnate Word, the Body and Blood of Christ, which He gave for the world. But with a mixed audience of countless beliefs and no belief, he has to be careful not to alienate with his own words. All should know he is a Christian, if not that he is the Vicar of Christ, and I believe he starts his remarks from that perspective when he speaks to large secular groups.
As his co-workers in the fields we can learn much from him. Thank you, Pope Francis, for being such a careful gardener for us to emulate. We are not to condemn others’ behavior, even if we view it as sinful, because that is wasted energy and time on someone who does not know the God we know.
If we are to be the right kind of gardener, we must have patience, wisdom, compassion, and joy in our work. That is attractive to others. We must lovingly, gently, and with great intention care for the tender plants that are often hidden under bitter, anxious, confused, abused, or abandoned ground.
When sharing the Good News of God’s love and mercy for humanity, it is best to plant seeds and not squash them. The former takes time and we may never have the personal satisfaction of watching the fruits of our labor mature. But the latter just leaves the person dazed and most probably angry.
God graced us with His Way, Truth, and Life in His Son. And we are commissioned to share that amazing Gift with others. We have to do it gently and joyfully, tenderly and with compassion for so many lost souls. Confusion makes us defensive; misunderstandings cause division in relationships and communities. We have to start at a place of love to move anywhere else. We have to begin in a place where both parties are willing to meet. I can’t tell you the right direction to travel in if you don’t even know your left from your right or that the road to travel continues over the horizon. So many are not even on a road yet, let alone the road on which we are traveling, and the one on which we yearn for them to join us.
Why do we want them to walk with us on that road to Christ? Because we love them is probably your answer. Do they know that? You can’t say those words, “I say these hurtful things about your sinful life because I love you.” Who would believe that statement? As Jesus did, we have to show them we love them, and we need to show that we love Jesus and so want them to know that joy, too. Be the loving friend, spouse, family member, or even stranger before you try to get someone who doesn’t know Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to join you.
Whether you think of yourself as a worker in the field or a traveler on the road, you can see that we have to do everything with love and kindness. You could call that mercy. The Pope does.