On the dating site eHarmony, there is an option to answer as many multiple choice questions as a participant chooses. One of those goes like this:
Was Barack Obama born in the United States?
The response options are:
A. Yes, of course
B. No, I’m convinced he wasn’t
C. I need more evidence
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sighed while perusing a profile because the answer wasn’t A.
Seriously? Donald Trump is having an impact on my dating life?
As I wrote in 2011 during the birther debacle, “Trump is a mirror. The big magnifying kind that shows way more of your pores and lines than you ever wanted to see. He’s like a big reflector bearing down on our nation … bringing to light some blotches and blemishes we would not have otherwise seen.”
Lord have mercy.
Which brings me to Pope Francis. Oh, what a different mirror he holds up to us.
When we look at our reflection in this man, we see our faith in humanity, our desire to bring our encounters back to basic love and kindness, our deep well of empathy, and a focus on what unites us. Over the past week, I marveled at the latter. The contrast was reinforced repeatedly, as Americans have become so accustomed to focusing on what divides us. (Yes, I’m participating in this just like everyone else — see dating question above).
The Pope’s visit to our country soothed many of us. It caught a lot of us by surprise, the fact that we got swept up in it, or were moved by what we saw and heard when we watched the news. His interactions were lit up, energy palpable even through a television screen.
Oh, sure, he also showed us our shallow thinking as we tried to put him in our political boxes. So much of our media coverage and posturing by our politicians shone a light on our inability to transcend ordinary thought. Trying to make a visionary world leader take sides like he’s on a playground? Embarrassing. Completely missing the big picture.
So many of us got it. Plenty of Catholics, but also plenty who weren’t. People like me who were raised Catholic but are no longer affiliated. People of different faiths. People of no particular faith. The spiritual get Pope Francis. The religious? Not so much.
Here’s how I differentiate a spiritual person from a religious one: If you believe belonging to your faith, your specific religion with its set of rules, means you’re going to paradise when you die and the rest of humanity will not be, you’re religious. A spiritual person believes there are many ways to God/The Great Creator.
Some in both camps have an appreciation for Pope Francis. I say “some” because I know Catholics who are not thrilled with the man. But I also know and have interacted with many former or non-Catholics who get what he’s bringing to the world. They’re relieved that someone with a sense of real priorities – the Golden Rule as it applies to how we are in the world, caring for the Earth — has risen to a place of incredible influence.
It’s not about, as some have noted, his bringing Catholicism into the modern world. At least not for me. Would I have liked to see more women on the altars where he said mass? Yes. A thousand times yes. But that’s one of the reasons why I’m not Catholic and why I’m not tempted to go back. It’s called free will. I choose not to belong to a religion where one gender is exalted, the other relegated to a supporting role.
That being said, I like that my “way” to God has been personally crafted to include what feels right and soulful in my life. I enjoy mass sometimes. I get a wonderful feeling of peace when I walk into a storied church or cathedral. It’s special. I like the history, the art, the hushed tones.
I don’t see the Pope’s appeal as being “hazardous” as described by Maureen Dowd, who wonders if the “Francis effect” is making the Church more attractive to people in spite of its archaic doctrine. Catholics who stuck with the Church through the pedophilia and the backward thinking on birth control, just to name a few things, aren’t likely to abandon ship because of anything Pope Francis does. Similarly, will his charm swell the ranks? Are that many people going to suddenly toss their condoms in the garbage and go off the pill to join a parish? And is that even the point?
At the end of the mass at Madison Square Garden, much fuss was understandably made when Pope Francis asked people to pray for him. But I loved what he said right before that:
“Glorify the Lord by your life.”
Isn’t that beautiful?
How we live, how we interact, how we love – those are at the heart of that idea or philosophy. Maybe the best way to glorify our Creator, too, is to be a mirror that reflects back to people the best of who they are and who they can be.
I feel inspired to try.