At the heart of the World Youth Day celebrations is Jesus Christ – the turner of tables; the one who stands the whole world on its head; the one who remains present in the world through his Church and most especially in the Eucharist.
This last week in Rio de Janeiro has been one huge glorious, unexpected mess. It rained on the Pope’s parade, but the cold, wet weather only seemed to galvanize everyone’s enthusiasm and determination even more. The motorcade got caught in a traffic jam, but that just made Pope Francis reach out to meet and touch more people. The venue for the final huge Mass was turned to an enormous mud pie, making the organizers shift the site back to the beach.
The pope’s energy and unpredictability surprised his aides, kept his minders hopping, caused security headaches, and exhausted his entourage. If anyone ever combined his message with his life and his actions, it was Pope Francis jumping into his new role feet first, making a mess and calling for the young Catholics of the world to do the same.
The new pope has not only taken the name of Francis, but he seems to be inspired by Il Poverello’s life and character. St Francis was known for living out his vocation with unexpected, dramatic, and memorable actions. He stripped naked and gave everything to his earthly father in order to follow his heavenly father. He stood barefoot in the snow waiting for Pope Innocent to see him. He preached to a wolf, to birds, and to the Sultan. He kissed lepers and sang hymns to the sun, moon, and stars. He lived what he preached and preached what he lived. So Pope Francis lives out what he preaches in a way that is consistently and constantly prophetic. All of his actions have deeper meanings. When he visited the poor, the addicted, and the prisoners, he was saying to all of us, “You too are poor. You too are addicted to false gods. You too are in bondage, locked in the prison house of your sin and selfishness. Yet Christ comes to you where you are to set you free.”
Pope Francis’s prophetic witness is summed up in his joyful call, which echoes like a subversive version of the Great Commission: “Go out into the whole world and make a mess!” Of course the Holy Father is not calling for chaos for chaos’s sake; he’s not calling for dissent and violent revolution. He’s calling for a bit of Christ-like table turning. He’s calling for us to turn over the tables of greed and self-serving in the temple. He’s calling for repentance and for us to return to God, and only then to encourage others to follow suit.
He’s also calling to mind the old saying, “A person who never made a mess never made anything.” In other words, creation can only be brought out of chaos. You have to step out, take risks, and make mistakes in order to make progress. This message is especially vital for young people, but it is a brisk reminder to all of us not to depend too much on the old, established ways of “doing church,” but to take risks, get out of our set ways, and reach out to the world with creativity, drive, enthusiasm, and the joy of the Holy Spirit.
“Go out into all the world and make a mess!” is a reminder that the Gospel is never good news unless it is subversive. This is where the message becomes dangerous, because we must be sure we are subverting what is in fact wrong and supporting what is indeed right. The Gospel is subversive to the way of the world. The way of the world (wherever it exists) is the way of the six deadly “P” words: Prosperity, Power, Politics, Prestige, Privilege, and Pleasure. The Gospel is Good News when it challenges these deadly six. By “making a mess,” Francis is not calling for violent revolution or dissent against Church teachings; he’s calling for Catholics to live radical lives of discipleship that prophetically challenge the smug ways of the world – those ways which give us the Culture of Death rather than the Culture of Abundant Life promised to us by Christ.