Three balls, two strikes.  Two on, two out.  Down a run.  You know, you just know, another fastball is coming.  You’ve fouled off two in a row.  Not good contact so he probably thinks you can’t catch up to his heat which today has been between 92 and 94 MPH, about right for him.  But you think you have the measure of this guy now.  Sit dead red.

This is all why you will look like an idiot flailing at the 80 MPH garbage he will flip up there and that will just die on you.

That’s the change-up.  Get them used to one thing.  Then show them something else, something so different, so much slower than the fastball, their timing will be a wreck and they won’t figure you out all day.

Which brings me to the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the newly minted Pope Francis I.

Don’t sit dead red on this guy.  Don’t try to tell me you know what’s coming because you don’t.

Everyone thought they knew what was coming with John XXIII.  A nice safe transitional Pope who wouldn’t rock the Bark of St. Peter for the few years the fat  77-year-old geezer would be in there.

John XXIII called Vatican II.  He revolutionized what a Pope and the papacy could be and to say he transfigured the Church is a vast understatement.  It’s why, even though his papacy ended several years before I was born, he’s my favorite Pope, to this day one of the best advertisements for Catholicism, and makes my short list for people from history I would most want to meet.

I thought I had John Paul II down cold.  In his way a media superstar but also an ultratraditionalist who went around scolding (once literally) any priest or theologian who deviated even a little from the Pope’s straight-and-narrow.  The Pope who decided he needed to tell the Jesuits who they needed to have as their General after the great Pedro Arrupe suffered a stroke and could no longer serve in that role, even though Jesuits had always elected their own leaders just like most religious orders.  The archconservative who because of his nightmarish experience with Communism was implacably opposed to anything even the slightest bit left-wing and who maybe because he had lived under a dictatorship could be pretty authoritarian himself.

The archconservative once called labor unions “indispensable” and supported debt relief for Third World nations.  The ultratraditionalist publicly apologized to Jews for the Church’s past anti-Semitism and was the first Pope to publicly pray in a mosque.  Really, what the hell do I know?

I thought I had Benedict XVI down even colder.  When John Paul II scolded those priests and theologians, it was often through the man nicknamed “God’s rotweiler.”   Next to him, John Paul II was positively radical.  He had publicly condemned rock- and-roll, including the Beatles.  From what I could tell from a distance, he seemed like the kind of guy who would have all the warmth and good humor of someone who would publicly condemn rock-and-roll and the Beatles.

Ask anyone who was at Yankee Stadium in the summer of 2008 for the Pope’s Mass how cold and dry Benedict was.  He may have condemned rock-and-roll as devil music but he also condemned child rapers masquerading as priests as “filth”— maybe not enough, but not nothing either.  And then Mr. Traditional did one of the more untraditional things you will ever see by willingly laying down the reigns of power when he felt he no longer merited them.

Seriously, what the hell do I know?

As Catholic, I know that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit.  That necessarily means the Holy Spirit guides the Pope.  There are plenty, plenty of instances of Popes not listening to that guidance, at least not apparently (I can’t figure out how Popes operate, you think I know what the Holy Spirit is trying to say to anybody?).  But sometimes that guidance manifests itself in ways you don’t expect.

From a secular standpoint, I know that holding any office of that kind of significance has to change you more than you could ever change it.  You’re not same person you were after a few years of being a president or a prime minister that you were before you took the oath.    It stands to reason that must be especially true for popes.

I don’t know how the office will change Pope Francis.  I don’t know what he’ll do as Pope or what he’ll mean for the Church.  I’ve learned at long last not to even try hazarding a guess.  In less than a month, I’ve seen a Pope resign, the first Pope from the Americas take over, and a Jesuit at that.  Your guess is as good as mine.  And your guess isn’t good.

We know the hard questions facing the Church about the poor and abuse scandals and women and the priesthood and birth control and ministry to gays and lesbians and on and on it goes.  We know there are hard questions about Cardinal Bergoglio and what he did and what he may have failed to do about the outrages of a junta.  Those questions, the Church’s, his, deserve answers.  They’re probably coming.

I’ll say this fornow: his profound humility speaks for itself down the whole bus route he used to take to work as a cardinal.  So does his work for the poor and his choice of the name Francis after one of the greatest peaceful warriors for social justice the world has ever seen.  He’s a Jesuit which means he’s part of an order that’s synonymous with titanic intellect and which lives to “find God in all things.”  All of this gives me hope for this papacy and my Church.  It’s cautious perhaps, but I know hope when it arrives and it’s shown up here with me now.

What gives me even more hope is knowing that God’s out pitch seems to be the change-up.

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