Following Pope Francis when he goes "off message" or puts aside his prepared notes for a homily or talk reminds me a bit of getting into one of those "Moonwalk Bounce Houses" that people rent for kids parties. UP is still up and DOWN is still down, but they feel different. As a grown-up (and one with a problem back, at that!), I don't find that fun at all. I find it kind of scary.
And that leads me to the 4th "rule" for reading Pope Francis: Don't be afraid. Pope Francis is asking us for more faith--not less.
The Pope may not always use the formulae I'm familiar with, and he may apply the key teachings of the Church in ways that I haven't always thought of, but I'm catching on that what he is saying is more, not less, than what I'm more used to hearing.
Remember what he said to Eugenio Scalfari in the "La Repubblica" interview last week? "There is no 'Catholic god'... there is God." That made some Catholics bounce-house nervous. "Did we miss an important memo? What about the Trinity? Is he 'leveling' the real differences between Catholic understanding and all other religions?"
Far from leveling Catholicism, Francis is giving us a glimpse of what our faith really means: he is heightening the expression of our faith!
This God we believe in as Catholics is not a "Catholic god": There is only One: "He is the LORD and there is no other" and "he rules from end to end and orders all things mightily" while not even a sparrow falls to the ground, or a hair gets brushed off your head that he isn't aware of. This one, holy, infinite God who "delights in the children of men" and "who understands all they do"; "who searches hearts"; who "welcomes sinners and eats with them," is not bound by the means he has given us for meeting him, St Thomas says, not even when those means are the Church and the sacraments.
God is bending over backwards to reach people even beyond the explicit (and, in the case of the Eucharist, unsurpassable) "usual means" he has given us for meeting him. The Shepherd will do whatever it takes to draw the stray sheep closer to home.
Doesn't that vast vision, hinted at so simply in Francis' words, challenge your faith? It does mine! God doesn't issue a "report card" for good attendance at Mass; He gives us himself. The horizons are so big, I am reminded of what a tin, fragile frame I am using to keep my vision of God in. I'm invited to a new level of faith. And the first step (so it seems throughout the Bible) is "do not be afraid!"
On a related note, here's a great Pope Francis quote found by Suzanne at The Catholic Breadbox: "Relativism is, oddly, absolutist and totalitarian. It does not allow anyone to stray from its own relativism. Basically, it means ‘shut up’ or ‘don't meddle.’"