"Who am I to judge?"
These very words both moved and enraged countless hearts at the start of Pope Francis' pontificate. Since elected pope, Francis' words and actions have been unpredictable, especially in recent days when he addressed the U.S. Congress, emphasizing issues like climate change, and seemingly steering clear of anything controversial.
When I first read his speech I, like many, felt anger. "Why would he stand before our government and not reprimand them for legalizing gay marriage and slaughtering millions of babies through abortion... key issues which the Catholic Church fights vigorously against?"
But then I thought: "Who am I to judge?"
Could it just be possible that the Holy Father knows a great deal more than I do about the world's problems, has a much broader and global perspective, sees political relationships from a completely different angle than I am capable of, and hears things from the Holy Spirit that I am not privy to?
Could it just be possible that there is wisdom in how the pope chooses to behave, and in the words he chooses to use? That if he met with Congress only to step in with the most controversial topics, that they would immediately shut down, and his speech would fall on deaf ears?
Instead, like Jesus often does in Scripture, he meets them where they are. And so very much like his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, he "speaks the truth always and uses words when necessary." He passes on dining with the rich and powerful in order to feed the homeless, which turns more heads and hearts in this country than any mere words ever could.
Could it just be possible that he is showing us the way of love? As Jesus said, "I have not come to condemn the world but to save it” (John 3:17). Could it be possible that through this way, abortionists, homosexuals, atheists, those who feel most bitter about the Church and have seen it as a great enemy just might be able to say:
"What is this Catholic Church? I have to know more! And who is this Jesus Christ that Pope Francis serves?" That their ears might be opened to actually hear the truth, and their eyes be opened to see: "Oh! Why doesn't the Catholic Church support abortion? Because it loves! Why doesn't the Church support gay marriage? Because it loves!"
Pope Francis is a pope of love. Interesting that he does not put himself above meeting with Obama and his friends, above feeding the homeless, and that he also refuses to judge another person. But all too many of us are all too quick to judge Francis.
I think many of the things Pope Francis says and does, like Jesus, are not for we "righteous" but for "sinners"--meeting and speaking to them where they are. “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do,” Jesus pointedly said to the Pharisees when they challenged Him on eating with tax collectors and sinners. “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13). This is a pope of mercy, speaking to a world desperately in need of mercy. In the end, who are we to judge?
"Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor; it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing."
- Pope Francis to the United States Bishops