Like many people, I was immensely moved when I saw the photos of Pope Francis washing the feet of single moms and recovering drug addicts.
I hope I'm alone, though, when I confess that the sensation I felt was not purely salutary -- although I didn't realize it until this morning. The first news headline I read said, "Pope Francis to Celebrate Holy Thursday Mass at Juvenile Prison
"How wonderful," I thought. "He's really going to put his example of service right in front of our faces, over and over again until we get it." In some dark part of my heart a tiny spark of glee crackled, and I thought, "Hoo hoo, this is going to tick off all the right people!" I didn't really mean "until we get it." I meant, "until they get it" -- they, the modern pharisees, the cranks, the bitter, unloving ones.
Then I read the headline again. "Juvenile Prison." You know who's going to juvenile prison? Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, the boys who repeatedly raped and degraded an unconscious girl in Steubenville last summer. I spent a good part of yesterday reading up on this case, trying to wrap my mind around how the world must look to these teenage boys. I tried to imagine what it would do to a person to grow up without strong, caring parents -- to come of age in an atmosphere where nobody tells you how to behave, where no one teaches courtesy or responsibility, and where everyone celebrates your strength and power, so that you feel like you can do no wrong. I wasn't trying to make excuses for them; I was just trying to get a foothold in the point of view of a couple of boys who figured the coach would take care of it, whatever they did.
Nope, I couldn't do it. I was sorry they didn't have strong dads, or whatever. I was sorry they didn't go to catechism, like my kids do. But I just kept coming back to the idea that they must have known that what they were doing was wrong. They must have known. They did know. They are responsible for their behavior. There is no excuse.
I still think this. But, seeing the photo above, I had to ask myself: what about the teenagers whose feet the pope will wash? Will they be specially chosen because they are . . . what, only half bad? Misunderstood rascals? Basically good kids who got mixed up with the wrong crowd? Maybe. But maybe -- even likely -- they were serving time because they had done something just as unthinkably, disgustingly wrong as Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond. They were in juvie, not prison, only because of their age. And the pope would be there, washing their feet.
I will remember this next time I go to confession. I will tamp out that little spark of hellish pride that tells me, "Aren't you great to be coming here, asking forgiveness! Good for you, making the trip when you don't even have any mortal sins to confess. You're not such a bad kid! Jesus will take care of it! Jesus has your back. This is just a big misunderstanding, so let's get this ridiculous trial over with so you can get back to your superstar life."
Pope Francis, you terrify me.