“In the Old Testament, the novelty of the Bible did not consist merely in abstract notions but in God’s unpredictable and in some sense unprecedented activity.” – Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est
“Faith is a gift from God that catapults itself into human experience with a high degree of unpredictability. …faith seems to be caught rather than taught. It is a living flame that springs from an ardent heart and kindles a fire in another. Packaging, public relations, and salesmanship can never be adequate substitutes for the attractive power of a believer who is personally open to God.” – Michael Casey in Fully Human, Fully Divine: An Interactive Christology
“A high degree of unpredictability” – who does that sound like? Since 2013, Pope Francis has captivated the world with his remarkable display of discipleship. And just when we think we’ve got him figured out, he surprises us again! “Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by God,” were his words to the students at Santo Tomàs University in Manila, Philippines during his January pastoral visit – words he clearly lives by.
Pope Francis embodies a kind of discipleship that awaits with great anticipation the surprise of God in his life. And there is something remarkably attractive about this, to both Church and world. I believe that this is a big reason why the world pays such close attention to his every move. What’s coming next?
And of course, this is disconcerting to some. Many of us are uncomfortable with surprises (I confess I am often one of them). But discipleship is nothing if not an adventure, and adventures yield surprises.
God surprised me by leading me toward Catholicism when I was a United Methodist pastor. It was an exciting period in my life but also unsettling at times – handing over my ordination credentials, leaving a guaranteed job and not knowing where I would find work. It hasn’t always been easy, but my Catholic faith has brought me closer to Jesus, and for that I am happy and thankful.
If we are truly open to being surprised by God, we can expect the unexpected. But we can also expect that our lives will have the attractive power of Jesus Christ who surprised everyone around him at every turn.