When Pope Benedict XVI retired in February, I wrote an article in appreciation for his papacy. While he served as a great model of humility in stepping down from his role as Pope, what I appreciated more about Pope Benedict was his first encyclical, turned into a book, called God is Love. In it, Benedict wrote these profound words:
Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God. To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world—this is the invitation I would like to extend with the present encyclical. (93)
God is Love is a powerful written reminder of the essence of Christianity. I hope more Christians of all stripes will read it. Indeed, I appreciate Benedict for writing those beautiful words, but I love Pope Francis because he’s publicly living those words.
Almost every day we hear a new story about Francis modeling the love of God to the world. Last week we saw him embrace a man with neurofibromatosis who approached Francis at the end of a general audience. As the Blaze describes the story, “While individuals with neurofibromatosis are sometimes shunned because of their appearance, Francis wasted no time kissing the man’s face, embracing him and offering up a blessing.”
Those who don’t fit cultural standards of beauty are often shunned or scapegoated. Ancient and modern cultures have tended to think that only the beautiful are worthy of respect and honor. Humans make beauty into an idol because we sever it from truth and goodness.
Truth, goodness, and beauty are three transcenedentals of religious philosophy. Thomas Aquinas taught that truth, beauty, and goodness are one in God. Religious philosophy teaches that a meaningful life involves both appreciating those qualities of God and living into them. Pope Francis referred to them when he addressed the world’s religious leaders back in May when he stated, “We feel close to all who, despite being from other traditions and religions, feel the desire to look for truth, beauty, and goodness.”
But there is a danger to truth, beauty, and goodness. They can easily become distorted when they aren’t guided by God’s love. Without love, truth becomes a battle of “us” verses “them.” Without love, beauty becomes an excuse to shun the “ugly.” Without love, goodness becomes an excuse to define ourselves against an evil “other.”
Just as important to the story and this exploration of truth, beauty, and goodness is the man with neurofibromatosis. I’m left wondering, where did his boldness come from? Like the faith of the hemorrhaging woman in the gospels who was healed by courageously touching Jesus cloak, this man’s faith led him to courageously approach Francis and ask for a blessing.
I haven’t heard much about the man’s story, but like the Blaze stated, there’s is good reason to believe he has been shunned for much of his life. Despite that experience, he knows the truth, beauty, and goodness of God. He knows that he is made in the image of God and is worthy of being loved. And Francis knows it too.
I love Pope Francis because he is showing us what truth, beauty, and goodness looks like when it’s guided by love. I love the man with neurofibromatosis because dares to believe that he is created in the image of God who is not only love, but truth, beauty, and goodness.
And that is a beautiful thing.