A tale of two Francises
Last week, Loyola Press here in Chicago announced that it had acquired the rights for the English edition of Pope Francis’ first book as pope. Titled The Church of Mercy, the book will be a collection of essays, speeches, and homilies from the first year of his papacy and is expected to hit book stores in time for Easter.
The title once again highlights what observers have identified as Pope Francis’ overarching theme. Writing in August for the National Catholic Reporter, Vatican correspondent John Allen noted, “If you want a formula that most clearly expresses the beating heart of Francis' papacy, … the best candidate is probably ‘The Pope of Mercy.’”
Last night, having that theme of Pope Francis on my mind, I couldn’t help but notice a very different meditation on mercy from another Francis—the ruthless polar opposite of Pope Francis, so let’s call him the “anti-Francis.”
My son and I were watching the first episode of the second season of Netflix’ creepily compelling House of Cards. At the end of that rather shocking episode, the ruthlessly power-hungry, murderous star of the show, Congressman Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey), for the first time in Season 2 talks directly into the camera: “For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: Hunt or be hunted.”
I’m not sure whether this set-up as the anti-Francis was deliberate, but to me the contrast was striking indeed. Over at Sojourners, the Rev. Greg Coates also noticed “The Anti(Gospel) of Francis Underwood”: “I was left in awe at the show’s brutal honesty of what a life purely committed to power potentially looks like.” In the end, Coats says, the show poses a crucial question to us viewers: “Will you follow the way of violent power or will you follow the way of self-sacrificial love? Will you trample over others or will you empty yourself, taking the very nature of a servant? In short, will you choose the way of Francis Underwood or the way of Jesus Christ?”
Given Pope Francis’ theme of mercy and the anti-Francis’ theme of “ruthless pragmatism,” I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to rephrase that last sentence: “Will you choose the way of Francis Underwood or the way of Pope Francis?”
Images: Netflix and Loyola Press