Our tug-of-war on Francis is all about us, our American narcissism, our idols and our obsessions
Using people is something humans do. We can be selfish human beings so we often end up approaching other people with a utilitarian mindset, asking ourselves: “What can this person do for me?”
If the answer is very little or nothing, we often discard the person, reject them or treat them with less respect or care. But if a person can do something for us, our attitude is often completely different.
I know I do this to people, and people do it to me. I experienced being on the receiving end of this once when I was working in the book store the Daughters of St. Paul run in Miami. A woman came in and began to order me around the store as if I were her indentured servant. I tried to be patient and find what the woman wanted, but after a while I began to feel angry and annoyed.
I was on the verge of telling her off when an employee mentioned to the woman that I am an author and that I had written a book. I was shocked at how quickly her attitude toward me changed. She began to treat me with respect, almost to the point of fawning over me.
Either way, I felt used. I felt like this woman did not interact with me as a person but simply as an object that was useful to her in one way or another.
I recently read a quote from an interview that Pope Francis gave to a radio station in Argentina.
He said, “I have felt used by people who presented themselves as my friends and whom I hadn’t seen more than once or twice in my life. They have used that to their own benefit. But it’s an experience we all go through … Friendship in the utilitarian sense – let’s see what advantage I can gain by getting close to this person and becoming friends – that pains me.”
When I read this quote I couldn’t help but think about the meeting that Pope Francis reportedly had with Kim Davis when he was in the US, as well as the inevitable hysteria around the ongoing Synod on the Family.
The reaction to the news of Pope Francis’ meeting with Kim Davis has been truly a sight to see on social media. A mixture of elation and touchdown dances on the right and anger, wringing of hands, and scrambling to explain away on the left. Different tribes bending over backwards to view Pope Francis’ actions in a way that indicates his message is their message. It’s so ridiculous, it’s almost laughable.
For some reason, even though this similar dynamic (or its opposite) has been happening over and over again with Pope Francis, the situation with Kim Davis really caught my attention. Perhaps the incessant scrambling on both sides of the culture war forced me into an unmistakable, gnawing sense of déjà vu. Or, perhaps I noticed it because both Kim Davis and Pope Francis have become objects (of adulation or disgust) in the media, rather than persons.
Who is Pope Francis?
He is the Vicar of Christ, the bishop of Rome, the spiritual head of the Catholic Church.
He is also a gentle, joyful and extroverted person with a heart for people. In other words, Pope Francis is a lover. He has been filled with the love of Christ to the point that it brims over. If you are in the same room as Pope Francis, you know he loves you. Even if you are on the other side of the world from Pope Francis, you know he loves you.
It is understandable then that most people want Pope Francis to be on their side, to fight for what they believe is right. He has a powerful presence and his endorsement humanly and spiritually speaking is a big deal. Humanly: because he is a charismatic character and spiritually because he represents something more than himself.
And yet, it seems to me that our expectations of Pope Francis are often unreasonable. People in the United States seem to expect a level of sensitivity from Pope Francis to our cultural, political and social situation that isn’t often given to Pope Francis in return. They also seem to expect him to articulate the Church’s teachings in a way that parallels their own tribe’s preferences in this particular cultural, political and social milieu.
In other words, we expect Pope Francis to do it as we would do it. Because we, apparently, know best. To me, this reveals a high degree of arrogance on our part.
And, not only do we demand that Pope Francis keep us in mind all the time, but we also use him.
We turn Pope Francis into a weapon.
The pope who begs us to work for peace in our homes and in our world is used every day as a spear by different tribes to attack one another, within and outside of the Church. We use Pope Francis as a weapon to disappoint, tease and attack our “enemies.”
There is a point when our Francis tug-of-war becomes more about us, about our American-narcissism, our idols and our obsessions, than about faith, beauty, truth and goodness.
Pope Francis is a human being, a holy human being, but a person with foibles, strengths and weaknesses. He is a person, a unique unrepeatable person with desires and hopes. As with all people, we are called to let Francis be Francis and God be God. Because no matter how much faith I have in Pope Francis, I have more in God. And he is always in charge, (something to remember during the Synod on the Family).
Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, fsp, is the author of The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church. She recently pronounced her first vows with the Daughters of Saint Paul. She blogs at Pursued by Truth