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Make a Mess

May 9, 2018

By Dr. Rocco L. Martino

“By keeping your eye on the ultimate goal,
you lean into the mess and try to make
the outcome a little better.”
― Jeff Fortenberry

This is a phrase attributed to Pope Francis.  It is a perfect example of the difference in idiomatic expressions in different languages.  The Pope’s intention was to get people involved.  For him, “make a mess” meant to get involved.  A more idiomatic translation might be “stir the pot”.  So… are you stirring the pot in your life.   

I was walking my dog around the neighborhood when I bumped into my skeptical friend George. Before I could even say “Hi,” he jabbed his finger in my face and jeered, “That Pope of yours must be crazy. He told those kids in Rio to ‘make a mess.’ What kind of nonsense is that?”

For a moment, I was speechless. The Pope’s message — a very important message — was lost on George. “George,” I began, “you misunderstand. The Pope wants the young people to challenge the status quo, even if they mess up. He told them that making mistakes is part of growing up, of being human. If you do nothing, of course, you won’t make mistakes — so one may think. The Pope is saying that doing nothing is a mistake. He urged them to act; and if they err, they should seek forgiveness and move on. He is challenging them to get involved.”

“Humph,” George spluttered. “What’s wrong with the status quo? Everything is fine and dandy. We don’t need a bunch of kids upsetting the apple cart. The Pope should tell them to be quiet and just listen to those older and wiser than themselves. Just like we did.”

“George,” I said, “If we keep the status quo, there won’t be any progress. We wouldn’t have any jet planes, space travel, television, computers, or cell phones. There is a famous story about the superintendent of the US Patent Office, at the turn of the 20th century, who stated how chagrined he was that everything had been invented, and nothing new would be possible. That, of course, was before the vast explosion of technology up to the present.”

“So what!” interjected George. “Kids didn’t do it.”

I couldn’t help laughing. “George, tell that to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Wozniak, and, if he were alive, Steve Jobs. They were ‘kids’ who made a mess.”

“Humph,” George answered. “You have a point, but only a point. The status quo is normally fine. The stock market is a perfect example. Stocks like stability.”

I chuckled again. “George,” I said, “you’re mixing apples and oranges. The markets like stability because then they don’t have to work at finding good investments. As much as they like stability, they like new companies and new products even more. Companies like Apple, Cisco, and Facebook became the true darlings of the investment community. Progress changes the face of everything. We cannot remain stagnant. Dying industries will do anything to inhibit progress. Just think of buggy whip manufacturers. They strongly opposed motor cars because they put an end to buggies and buggy whips. Surely, propeller manufacturers opposed jet airplanes. Thomas Edison faced tremendous opposition to electric street lighting by gas companies who supplied gas for street lights in New York City. I could go on and on George. The biggest proponents of the status quo are the executives of the companies that will be affected by change. It has always been so, George.”

George was silent, and his face became very thoughtful. “So that’s what the Pope meant,” he said.

“Yes. He wants the young people to step up and be heard in the affairs of the church. Just as he wants greater participation by the laity in church matters.”

“But that can’t be,” George said. “The laity, and especially young people, are not trained in theology and scriptures. How can they become involved in matters of the Church if they are not trained?”

“George, you’re both right and wrong. Think about it. A man goes to the seminary because of a vocation and is ordained after years of training in theology, philosophy, the scriptures, and the magisterium of the Church. He does not get an MBA in Finance or Administration along the way. He might do that later, but certainly not as part of his seminary training. Besides, that is not his vocation. His vocation is spiritual, not temporal.” 

George was nodding his head. “So, what does the Pope want?”

I sighed. “George, the Pope is asking for our help and prayers. The Church is comprised of the laity as well as those who’ve chosen religious vocations. All must be actively involved. There is a role for everyone. The days of a division between the religious and the laity are over. We are all human. We all make mistakes. We all sin. Love is what binds us all together as we follow Jesus. What we believe doesn’t change; but how we act in that belief can change. It’s all right to make mistakes. We all do. We have to forgive and move on. So that’s why the Pope told the young people to ‘make a mess.’ He actually told the whole Church the same thing.”

George nodded, but remained silent. My words had affected him. Perhaps he now understood the danger of blind adherence to the status quo.

My dog began tugging on the leash, so I said goodbye to George and walked away. I left George standing on the corner deep in thought. Maybe he’ll decide to “make a mess.”

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