The new book A Pope Francis Lexicon (Liturgical Press, 2018) includes a chapter by me, titled, “Embrace.” A version of this essay is now in Parable, the NH diocesan magazine for which I am a columnist. Here’s an excerpt:
Pope Francis is often chastised for what some see as a folksy, imprecise, emotional brand of faith that winks at the law. All those hugs! Who was ever saved because of a hug? Our savior redeemed us by fulfilling the law on a cross, not by giving us a big hug!
Indeed. Francis knows as well as anyone that an embrace is not a miracle. When he tenderly embraced the tumor-ridden head of the unfortunate pilgrim Vinicio Riva, he did not expect the man to be instantly healed. When we enter into an embrace—either a physical one offered by our fellow Catholics or a spiritual one offered by the Church—we are not automatically reconciled to each other or to God, nor do we automatically understand and accept our obligations.
And yet Pope Francis continues to insist on coming together, accompanying, seeking union, and—yes—embracing each other. Is this just naiveté? Does he really think huggy togetherness is an adequate substitute for orthodoxy? Let’s look at how he uses that word “embrace.”