More Than Meets the Eye
Few of us ever get the chance to make a second impression. So we strive to make a good first impression at all times, while balancing the need to stay true to ourselves. Dishonesty tends to encourage more dishonesty. If we tell just one lie, no matter how insignificant, we just might have to tell another to cover for the first one. And we can end up with such an intricate web of lies we forget what is and what isn’t true. And there is never any guarantee we will get the chance to rebuild trust once it’s broken. If we were even given such a chance, will the bond of trust be stronger or more fragile than before? It isn’t always a chance we can take.
Two years ago this past Friday, the world got its first glimpse of Pope Francis, formerly the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergolio. For those who already knew him, there wasn’t anything essentially different about him, except perhaps that he was now dressed in white the way only the Bishop of Rome would dress, and he was attended by a cluster of monsignors. But for everyone else, he was a fresh new face. We were drawn to his gentle smile, his reassuring voice, and his first gesture as pope in acknowledging a world that looked up to that balcony with eager anticipation. He asked for our blessing, then he lowered his head. The pope doesn’t do that! And it got people talking. What sort of pope would Francis be?
It’s been two years since his election, and that first impression largely remains. Pope Francis often speaks of God’s mercy and compassion, of the joy of Christian discipleship, and how living our faith should not be burdensome. When he first spoke off the cuff, setting aside his prepared text, he made some Vatican officials nervous. There have been popes, presidents, and prime ministers in the past who caused a stir for straying off script, or speaking carelessly into a live microphone. And his personal security detail understandably panics whenever he goes rogue and is swarmed by a crowd of well-wishers. He will still occasionally and without warning mingle with children, the poor, ordinary laborers, and outcasts of society. There is definitely something about the man that makes people take notice, inviting them to listen with new ears and new hearts, offering a new beginning to those who have shut the door and thrown away the keys, welcoming home those who have been away, calling to dialogue those who had once been easily dismissed. The media has even given a name to all this—the Francis Effect.
It makes sense we can only tell what people are like from what we see on the outside. We can try to guess what’s on the inside, but there’s no telling. Every once in a while, I will ask someone to take on a task to assist my work as pastor, or to help with the mission of the parish. I will base my choice on what I know and see of that person, and I might ask those I trust what they know and see. Sometimes I will act on a hunch, that someone is a match for a particular task. And if that person is willing to take a risk, I know God is telling me something. It doesn’t always work out, and I will be the first to admit I didn’t read the signs right, or I wasn’t paying attention. But I have known some people who did this a lot when I was growing up. Either they were really good at reading people, or they just knew how to persuade them to see things their way. I looked it up, and the closest I have come to describing this occurrence is the gift of discerning spirits.
The prophet Samuel was sent by God to Bethlehem to anoint a new king from among the sons of Jesse. The story is told from the prophet’s point of view, what he thought about each of the men who came before him, how this one or that one was perfect for the job. But God had someone else in mind, the young shepherd David who wasn’t even in the room, who would become Israel’s greatest king.
Now all this got me thinking. Didn’t God also choose King Saul before him, who started out well but strayed off course toward the end? And didn’t Jesus choose Judas to be one of the Twelve? We all know how he turned out. And what about all those popes and bishops and priests who have committed grave crimes and caused great damage to the people of God? And all those Christians, and all those Catholics we believe God chose in baptism, who were once fervent and filled with conviction in their profession of faith, who fell away and turned from God’s gift of grace? Was God wrong to choose them?
“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light … Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness.” St. Paul reminds us that we still retain the freedom to embrace what is good in the face of temptation and darkness and sin. “Live as children of light,” he says. He means to say, God chose you to walk in the light. But you will be tempted strongly to choose otherwise, and some of you will walk away from the light. So I plead with you, do not run back to embrace the darkness from which God has delivered you. You are not as powerless as you think. God gives you strength at every step. Trust him.
In the gospel Jesus chose to give the gift of sight to a man blind from birth. He was not some clueless innocent. His parents insisted he was old enough to speak for himself. But there were those who could not accept that a man blind from birth could see again. They were convinced they knew God’s mind well enough, and this wasn’t something God would do. Why would God choose the weak to accomplish great deeds, or call sinners to repentance and forgiveness? Why would God break the law regarding the sabbath? Why would God send his Messiah to be born of a lowly virgin in a stable? Why would God raise the dead to life? We will never know God’s true motives and intentions. But we can be certain of one thing—God will accomplish great and wonderful deeds, and God does not need our permission ever. Sometimes God chooses us to fulfill his plan, like he chose King David, and St. Paul, and the man blind from birth. God alone truly knows our hearts. But God still calls us to respond in freedom.
God is always sending us signs that he cares for us, that he needs our faith and our lives to accomplish his plan of salvation. God knows our hearts and puts faith in us. And God calls us to be faithful, to be light in the darkness of the world. Darkness is just the absence of light. But we are God’s children. We are children of light.
Rolo B Castillo © 2015