Politics & Policy

Pope Francis and Highway Robbery

(Alberto Pizzoli/Getty Images)
See a bit of MacGyver in the pope?

Remember MacGyver? He was the fictional television secret agent who came along around 1985. His trademark was creatively coming to the rescue of people in all kinds of jams with duct tape and a Swiss Army knife in under an hour with commercials. Listening to Pope Francis as he spoke in Korea in recent days and thinking about the ongoing highway robbery in our lives, I had some flashbacks to the prime-time show.

Pope Francis, who has described the Church as a field hospital, gave me the idea as he was speaking about robbery again, at his opening Mass at the World Cup stadium in Daejeon. No need for duct tape or knife — he bandages wounds with invitations to the Gospel and the sacraments of the Church.

As Christians and other religious minorities are being forced out of Iraq; as tear gas was used on protesters after the shooting of a young man believed to have been unarmed; as news reports continued to go into graphic detail about the suicide of the beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams; as North Koreans couldn’t be present at any of his Masses in the South, Pope Francis pointed to hope.

He said: “This hope, dear brothers and sisters, the hope held out by the Gospel, is the antidote to the spirit of despair that seems to grow like a cancer in societies which are outwardly affluent, yet often experience inner sadness and emptiness. Upon how many of our young has this despair taken its toll! May they, the young who surround us in these days with their joy and confidence, never be robbed of their hope!”

Pope Francis talks often of hope. And he talks of robbery. Think about it — about our lives, about our world. Every aforementioned news story has to do with some kind of robbery.

We’re on one of those roads we used to hear about back when our troops were on the ground in Iraq, one of those perilous roads complete with IEDs and car bombs. On this road, you have no idea who is friend or foe — people call themselves friends who are not. In this particular case the bandits are so charming, the potential for material gain so tempting, that even friends don’t know if they’ll stay on your side for long. The bandits are so seductive, too, that they can coax you to their side before you are fully conscious of the choice you’ve made.

On his first Palm Sunday as pope, Francis talked about joy, urging his listeners to “not be men and women of sadness,” to “never give way to discouragement.” He went on to plead: “Please do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Do not let hope be stolen! The hope that Jesus gives us.”

But we do let ourselves be robbed.

Again and again, Pope Francis says some variation of what he preached about in Korea: Do not let yourself be robbed of hope. Also, last summer — and several times since — he has talked about how prayer is not “time robbed from activities.”

His “Joy of the Gospel” late last year was overflowing with this robbery talk. Don’t be robbed of hope, of course. But also of “missionary enthusiasm” and “the joy of evangelization.” In a West, in particular, that has become so secularized — even hostile to real religious faith — he reminds Christians that living their faith in the public square — in every aspect of life — and sharing it is part of their Gospel mandate. Also, do not be robbed, he said, of “community” and “fraternal love.” He warns against worldliness and self-centeredness, and he writes: “Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the Gospel!” And, of course, of joy. Joy is one of the first things he talked about as pope, and even when he speaks of martyrs in Korean history, he points to the joy that gave them courage.

“The human heart aspires to great things, to important values, to profound friendships, bonds that are strengthened rather than broken by the trials of life,” Pope Francis said earlier this summer, at a shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows. “Human beings aspire to be loved, and to be loved definitively. Do not let yourselves be robbed of the desire to construct great and solid things in your lives! Do not be satisfied with half-measures!”

The other night in the bar car of an Amtrak train that was going backward (which might be a better metaphor for life in this decade than I could have come up with on my on), a life-wearied young man in his early 30s, who explained that he got married in the Church but hasn’t been to Mass since, talked about what “a stand-up guy” Pope Francis is, dubbing him “the boss.”

Warm feelings abound. But what is the pope saying? He repeats himself in case we’re missing it in the overload of life. His point is that this is not the life we were created for; we were created for something so much better. Not pain-free, mind you, but lives in which the suffering matters, where it is redemptive.

If a few more of us lived Christian hope, the rest of the world might see the difference and want it for themselves, or at least want people of real religious faith around. Until then, Western culture will become increasingly intolerant of people who want to live their faith in the world — people like the Green family that runs Hobby Lobby, who had to go to court in order to be allowed to run their business according to their consciences.

For the sake of Koreans who do not choose the surrender American culture has been heading toward in our addiction to comfort, and for the sake of Christians the world over who live and die for their faith, we ought to work some MacGyver moves of our own, joining Pope Francis in trying to end the crime spree we’ve opened ourselves to, and even given in to. The highway to Heaven is a whole lot more promising than the road we’re on.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online, and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.


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