On a horrific day last week, when everything was going wrong, and I was powerless to stop it, I found myself wishing I could just sit down and watch Jude Law pray. Law portrays Pope Pius XIII in HBO’s “The Young Pope,” a fictional account of an American pontiff.
And I’m not even Catholic.
Originally, I thought this series would be “House of Cards” meets the Vatican. Political corruption behind the closed doors of cardinals, priests, and some high ranking nuns. Not to mention the fact that none of the cardinals really believe the young pope should be there in the first place, and there are failed attempts to “set him up to get him out,” but the plot moved too slow. He’s too pure, and too smart, to accept the advances of the woman, he drops a baby, has no tolerance for corruption in the church, terrifies children with his weak attempts at humor (he has “childhood issues”), and won’t let the public see his face. And while there were hints of intrigue, I found myself drawn, instead, to the show’s serene beauty and tranquility. The art that serves to usher in the credits, and the young pope (and a wild jumping comet(have they read the book?!) into the scene, those adorable red shoes the pope wears, the crisp white that covers the walls, the helicopter, his robes….
And then, something else… the pope doesn’t believe in God. Sure, there are some supernatural TV-inspired moments of sainthood within him — he prays, and a corrupt nun suddenly dies, he brings someone on the brink of death back to life, but even though he has all the trappings of the position as pope, he is truly struggling with his faith. A man, who is supposedly the end of the line, when it comes to being next to God, and he doesn’t even believe in him. He doesn’t accept what everyone around him is saying about who is he. What boldness. What truth.
The Young Pope becomes honestly irresistible when he mirrors the most intimate thoughts we are all having — is there a God? Then, how could all of these things that are wrong be happening? In the weakness of this young pope’s faith, the show gains its greatest strength. It reminds me of that unassuming man, who shows up on the road to Emmaus, and walks with the two grieving men who have just realized they’ve been duped: They have just wasted two years of their life following that man, Jesus, that they thought would “save the world.”
And now, he’s dead, lying in a tomb, and they’re skeptical about the reports that his body is missing. (Luke 24:13-35). “The man on whom they banked their hopes and futures was crucified. Dreams of God’s triumph, justice, and restoration, smashed as their Lord hung up on a cross slowly suffocating. Where did his power go? Were his words really true?” (On Doubt.) But that unassuming man, who could have shouted — “Hey, it’s me, I’m not in the grave — I’m here,” is simply present with them, and he shares the old story about himself. And yet, the men still don’t recognize what is right in front of them.
Unlike the dusty road to Emmaus, the pope sits in all of the opulence, majesty, prestige and beauty that comes with the pope’s station… and still, he doubts.
Despite all of this, he prays. He reaches out in boldness, and he prays. He knows it’s the only line we have to an invisible God, and he takes it, often, and we watch him wrestle. And yes, the show might move slowly, but as you sit and reflect, and let that calm sense of serenity take over the screen, the world loosens its grip. There is something calming about knowing that we have a God who allows us to come boldly before him with our doubts, knowing he will reveal, in time, in subtle ways, all that we need to know, and all that we are seeking to find.