Like many, I have been moved by stories about Pope Francis, ones describing actions with symbolic resonances and statements which subvert expectations, in their reflection of a kind of Christianity that seems true to me, one that smells like Jesus but is still, at root, not quite conformed to the world’s demands. So I decided to read a book by Jorge Mario Bergoglio, pre-Pope, knowing that much of what he had written was devotional in nature.
The first chapter of the book, “Dialogues with Jesus,” urges priests to attend to the contemplation of Jesus, and in particular he points to the various encounters where people dialogue with Jesus and identifies three ways they come to him. There are the conditional dialoguers, the ones who would follow him but for certain factors, famously in Luke 9:57-92, but also the Samaritan Woman and Nicodemus. Then there are the devious dialoguers, the ones looking to test him and trap him, to whom Jesus “responds simply by assertion the sublimity of the glorified life,” as in Luke 20:27-40, or with the woman caught in adultery in John 8, turning “the condemnation back on the schemers… then [restoring] to the woman her very life, encouraging her to live from that point on responsibly.” Finally, the last group of dialogues are the loyal dialoguers, those who come to him “without duplicity or conditions” but with an open heart.
First, I am cut to the heart with how rarely I interact with Jesus, whether his stories or by faith or whatever, without duplicity or conditions. I have become well trained in skepticism of all varieties. I am eager to disprove the text, eager to hedge or qualify the commands, eager to justify myself. But Jesus’ words and actions have a way of laying us bare.
And yes, I have a bit of hopefulness and a bit of skepticism, perhaps healthy, perhaps destructive, perhaps both, about Bergoglio. How come all these good works and smooth words find their way into the media? I suppose it’s because he’s the Pope. But I realize that it is not mine to judge the man, his papacy, Catholicism, or even the authenticity of veracity of those publicized actions, because their force is not in who did them or whether they happened as the stories say, but in their resonance with a manner of living and being in the world that calls forth the dialogue. We are faced with an alternative culture, a paradoxical citizenship, a different kingdom. Are we going to engage it in order to trap it? Are we going to put preconditions on our own participation? Or are we willing to hear, with simplicity, the forceful truth of Jesus’ words and actions, the blunt blow to our vanity of Jesus’ humility, mercy, and love?