The Miracle Of Francis

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 6 2015 @ 2:30pm

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One sub-theme of the Dish has long been my passionate, tortured relationship with the Catholic Church. This decade and a half exposed the unspeakable child abuse epidemic in the church, leaving me utterly unmoored and gutted. My faith life during all these years sputtered, lingered, and at times opened onto a dry, bleak wasteland. I quit blogging (at least) once before in 2005 – but the election of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI ended my premature retirement. I knew Ratzinger’s work intimately, and had wrestled with it for years. I knew instantly that the church I loved would double down on its past, clamp down on any dissent, hide any scandal as well as it could, and risk becoming a narrower and tinier sect of purists. It pained me and enraged me as the church tried to blame its own foul abuse of children with gay priests. For a while, months at one point, I could not go to Mass. Just entering church filled me with an anger that has no place in such a refuge. I went into a spiritual wilderness. The hurt got the better of me.

The Holy Spirit nonetheless guided me back. Even in those dark days, I couldn’t abandon the legacy of Jesus’ example or an institution that had gone through the darkest times itself and yet gone on to brighter and even triumphant days. I clung to hope, which is absolutely not the same as optimism. And it turned out I was right not to let go. The emergence of Pope Francis – the sheer miraculous grace of it – suddenly eclipsed the despair.

You know what has happened since. I just wanted to add this coda to the narrative arc of the Dish years. It may not mean as much to you as to me – but Francis may well become a figure more important than merely Pope. That’s what I see and hope for, in any case. A little over a year ago, I sat down and wrote an essay about him that we ran on Deep Dish. It’s called “Untier Of Knots.” It was restricted to subscribers until last week – but it’s here if you’re interested. One quote in that essay from Francis means a lot to me. It is a lesson I learned writing this blog for so long – the letting go of arrogance, of utter certainty, and learning better the art of listening – to you, the readers, to other voices, and to the world. Here’s the passage:

I would not speak about, not even for those who believe, an “absolute” truth, in the sense that absolute is something detached, something lacking any relationship. Now, the truth is a relationship! This is so true that each of us sees the truth and expresses it, starting from oneself: from one’s history and culture, from the situation in which one lives, etc. This does not mean that the truth is variable and subjective. It means that it is given to us only as a way and a life. Was it not Jesus himself who said: “I am the way, the truth, the life”? In other words, the truth is one with love, it requires humbleness and the willingness to be sought, listened to and expressed.

The truth is a relationship. For so long, from your profound and sometimes hilarious emails about love and death, suicide and depression, eggcorns and female body hair, late-term abortion and the death of pets, bisexuality and cover songs, I learned to let go and let you guide me to the truths I had never seen or had pushed out of my line of vision or was simply too proud to acknowledge. The truth is a relationship. And we all grew in it together.

Or as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing once put it:

The true value of a man is not determined by his possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get to the Truth. It is not possession of the Truth, but rather the pursuit of Truth by which he extends his powers and in which his ever-growing perfectibility is to be found. Possession makes one passive, indifferent, proud.

If God were to hold all Truth concealed in his right hand, and in his left only the steady and diligent drive for Truth, albeit with the proviso that I would always and forever err in the process, and to offer me the choice, I would with all humility take the left hand, and say: Father, I will take this – the pure Truth is for You alone.

Amen.