As the New Year brings reflection over the past year, we have heard much about Pope Francis and the ways he has surprised Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The suddenness of his predecessor’s resignation this past spring, the fact that he is the first Pope from the Americas, and his apparent commitment to his namesake St. Francis’ concern for the poor and displaced all contribute to the sense that this Pope embodies the unexpected.
Especially indicative of the way this Argentinian, who for a short time was a nightclub bouncer, has surprised people is being named “Person of the Year” by The Advocate, a popular U.S. magazine devoted to gay and lesbian rights, culture, politics, and entertainment. Although he did not (nor will he, likely) reverse the Church’s stance on gay marriage, this accolade was given to the Bishop of Rome based upon his apparent change in tone about gays and lesbians, reportedly having said to reporters, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about the issue. Clearly, this humble response has endeared the Pontiff to many who have been excluded from the fold, yet still yearn for hints of acceptance.
The period of Epiphany is a time in which the identity of the Divine’s chosen is revealed and often this identity entails some element of surprise. In the same vein, this week’s Old Testament text, Isaiah 49:1-7, highlights the unforeseen nature of the servant who restores Israel.