This little story about Pope Francis and one of his weary Swiss guards will inevitably charm everyone but the stone-hearted. As it well should. We see in Pope Francis, the Jesuit, a very Latin and Franciscan way of being Catholic.
But let’s be very careful about reading too much into gestures like this. It’s true that rules were made for man, not man for rules. And so when a man-made rule is broken for the sake of charity or necessity, it can be a laudable thing. Our Lord Himself paved the way when, for example, he healed the sick on the Sabbath (a divine law, but deformed at the time by many Jewish accretions).
However, selective rule-breaking is only laudable in the context of general rule-keeping. Let me put it another way: rule-breaking only has symbolic value in a culture where the default mentality is obedience and rule-keeping. Otherwise, breaking the rules symbolizes nothing more than just another individual doing his own thing, his own way, just as everyone else does – because he can.
When it comes to religion and all things associated with Catholicism, I submit that most Catholics don’t need a lesson in charitable rule-breaking or any other kind of rule-breaking. Some of us do, undoubtedly, and if the shoe fits let us wear it gladly. Pope Francis is who he is, and I am grateful for that. But generally speaking, the Christian world is reeling from its contempt for Catholic order and discipline, and is desperately in need of holy examples of obedience. If another pope decided, instead, to commend the Swiss guard on his fidelity and discipline rather than bringing him a chair and a sandwich, such a pope would not for this reason be any less charitable.