Welcome to America! Let us shower you with unrealistic expectations!

Apparently, Pope Francis is coming to the United States. Because this pope has been so surprising, so candid, and so open, just about everyone has some sort of expectation of what he will do and say – in his unprecedented address to Congress, in his White House visit, in his time in Philadelphia coinciding with the World Meeting of Families, in his address to the United Nations, and in all the time in between.

Virtually none of those expectations will be met. For those expecting him to embrace those on the margins in some shocking and meaningful way, I’d make an exception; this is a pastoral pope who wants, it seems, more than anything to communicate to those on the world’s fringes that they are loved by God and the Church. He will walk through a bad neighborhood. He will embrace the homeless. He will visit prisoners. If that’s what you expect of this pope, ok, I’d wager you see a poignant image that underscores that this is what he is about. 

But for those of you enmeshed on either side of the culture wars, I have my doubts. 

Actually, from the sheer number of presentations he will make in politically relevant arenas, I take it back. If you filter through everything he says, I suspect you will be able to pull out a few tweets worth of quotes that underscore your predisposed point. But only by missing the rest of what he says.

Recently a Vatican Radio story reported on a meeting of Catholic legislators from across the world and included an interview with a U.S. Congressperson. Amidst the fawning praise for Francis, the Congressman was asked about the refugee crisis in Europe and, by extension, the implications for the US immigration debate. (N.B. Vatican Radio has been covering the refugee crisis for months. If you want a different perspective on international news, subscribe to their podcast.) After going on about the horrible situation in Europe and the need for authorities to respond, he said, matter-of-factly and without elaboration, “Of course, in the United States, the issues are completely different.”

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who pays attention to America’s fractured politics. Those on the right will hear Francis defend the unborn and the elderly, mourn threats to religious freedom, and call for a greater respect for the traditional family. Those on the left will hear Francis call the US to task for its contribution to climate change, inegalitarianism, and a lack of support for the disadvantaged while preaching love and mercy for those whose lifestyle doesn’t square with church teaching.

And, I expect, both sides will hear correctly, but impartially.

Here is my unrealistic expectation, flying in the face of diplomatic convention: that the pope be explicit about what applies to us, so that nobody can say “The issue here is completely different.”

If religious freedom’s defense applies as much to nuns being forced to provide birth control as to Coptic Christians being beheaded for confessing their faith, say that.

If the defense of life on the margins impels people of faith to protect the unborn, the elderly, the economically disavantaged, and the immigrant regardless of status all equally to the point of revamping our economic and social structures, say that.

If being a poor church for the poor requires Americans to change the way they consume, the way they treat the environment, the way their countries treat others, say that.

If supporting families means asserting a superiority of the sacramental understanding of marriage over all other configurations, say that. If it means loving and encouraging all forms of loving family, even those past Church leaders have deemed “disordered,” say that, too.

Because of his willingness to surprise and the evolution of social communications, no pope, perhaps no person, will have had the attention of this nation as thoroughly as Pope Francis in his first visit here. My unrealistic expectation is that he will be specific enough in his comments to prevent anyone from saying credibly, “He wasn’t talking about us.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: