Super Bowl LI and Pope Francis’ TED talk

The Holy Roman Pontiff gave a TED talk last wek and it was pretty great. Let me start off by saying that I have heard criticisms of our Holy Father that don’t bother me a tenth as much as the fact that they come from his children. I haven’t read any commentaries on this talk yet, but after watching it myself, I must say I am more in love with the man than ever!

For two reasons, it reminded me of his Instagram post I watched on Super Bowl Sunday this year, in which he praised sports for their ability to promote a culture of encounter, solidarity, friendship, and peace; teach sacrifice and fidelity; and promote a healthy relationship of rules:

  1. It was addressed to the whole world, via a platform the whole world listens to, in a context and regarding content that the whole world cares about.
  2. It takes a human discussion and elevates it to the eternal.

When this was current news, a brother in Christ remarked that Pope Francis shouldn’t be wasting time talking about the Super Bowl and instead should be focusing on the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East. I’ll just mention that he often covers that topic, like in this Instagram post mere weeks later. But that really is beside the point. If over 111 million people are turning into an event, and if “out of a hundred souls we are interested in a hundred”, then we should be talking about the Super Bowl! Pope Francis is not careless – another criticism I have heard. If you were being recorded, miquoted, paraphrased, and referenced out of context 24/7, you wouldn’t look perfect either. I believe our sweet Christ on earth puts very much care into what he says because he, like all Christians ought, strives to have rectitude of intention. He’s not talking about the Super Bowl because he likes football, friend. This 80 year old Agentinian bishop in the white hat is talking about the favorite sport of the United State’s because he loves people and he wants eternal happiness for them. He is doing things for this reason alone: God’s glory. You can’t get more full of care than that.

In his 17+ minute TED talk, Pope Francis mentions Our Lord only a few times. He talks at one point about thinking tenderly of him, when it’s obvious he means to ask for prayers, without saying the word, “prayer”. I can see many points over which a critical Catholic would have contention. But more than that, I see a pastor who wakes us from our stupor. And it’s jarring.

It is easy to do what has always been done. And, unfortunately, within the Chruch, this is very common. Perhaps it is because we don’t want to move too fast and risk overstepping our bounds, committing heresy, risking truth and justice for the sake of mercy. But Jesus doesn’t care about “what everyone else is doing” or about “the way things are done here.” He cares that we love. Pope Francis illuminates this idea in way that is accessible to people of all faiths. In his TED talk, he remarks that, as a community of creative, foward-thinking people, we must use our ingenuity to make people the focus rather than things, to put love into action and move it from our heart to our hands, to listen to and comfort those in need. He is managing to preaching a captivating homily to people who have never been to a Catholic church.

In the past, popes didn’t give TED talks. But in the past, people weren’t listening to TED talks. St. Francis terrified many in the hierarchy of the Church because he refused to do things as they had been done. He put together the first living nativities, lived and loved poverty, and didn’t hesitate to call out those in authority or mingle with the powerless.

Being Catholic doesn’t mean praying outside of an abortion clinic on Saturdays or financially adopting a child in a third world country. We can and should do those things, if that is what God is calling you to! But being Catholic is about encounter: our constant encounter with Christ, and our subsequent encounter​s with those around us, which are part of the Christ encounter, because we must be Christ to them, and we must see Christ in them.

Pope Francis calls on us to see the other as beloved and brother. He is speaking to all people. But in a special way, I think, he is speaking to us Catholics, for whom it is easy to check off our to-do list “be Catholic” and consider it done because I made it to Sunday Mass and didn’t use birth control. He is reminding us that the only measure is love. He is calling us to be truly Catholic, to take Christ at his word, to live the Gospel. To engage with everyone, not just those we feel comfortable with or who agree with us. To watch the Super Bowl, if that will open up a conversation with a co-worker who hasn’t been receptive to the faith. To leave behind our cloak, jump up, and follow him. Bumper stickers and rosaries hanging from your rearview mirror don’t make you Christian. Living in communion with and in imitation of Our Lord does.

“It is an old story that, while we may need somebody like Dominic to convert the heathen to Christianity, we are in even greater need of somebody like Francis, to convert the Christians to Christianity.” G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas

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