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What is the theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate? It’s the family.

In this photo provided by the Vatican paper L' Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis blesses a baby during a baptism at the Vatican, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014. With wails resounding amid the splendor of the Sistine Chapel, the Pontiff  baptized 32 infants, and at one point in the ceremony telling mothers to feel free to feed their crying babies. Formally welcoming the children as members of the Catholic church, Francis poured water from a shell-shaped dish over the heads of the babies held in their mothers' arms. Francis pronounced the babies' names one by one, as beaming parents held their children, dressed in white satin or silk gowns and other finery, in the chapel whose ceiling was frescoed by Michelangelo. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
In this photo provided by the Vatican paper L’ Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis blesses a baby during a baptism at the Vatican, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014. With wails resounding amid the splendor of the Sistine Chapel, the Pontiff baptized 32 infants, and at one point in the ceremony telling mothers to feel free to feed their crying babies. Formally welcoming the children as members of the Catholic church, Francis poured water from a shell-shaped dish over the heads of the babies held in their mothers’ arms. Francis pronounced the babies’ names one by one, as beaming parents held their children, dressed in white satin or silk gowns and other finery, in the chapel whose ceiling was frescoed by Michelangelo. (AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

It is a great mistake, I think, to sell Pope Francis short when he does not say exactly what we wish he would say. I’ve written about this before. (See, for example, How do we react when the Pope fails to express our top concerns? in January and Pope Francis: Get it? Got it? Good! in June.) It is reasonable to be disappointed, within due limits, if the Pope does not take advantage of what appears to be an obvious opportunity to make an important point. But let’s be honest: It is spiritually immature—not to mention a scandal to others—to respond derisively or dismissively to the Holy Father.

Among the many comments I’ve read about the points Pope Francis has made during his visit to the United States, I have seen few which attempted to place his remarks in the context of the overarching themes of his pontificate. The focus always seems to be on whether Pope Francis won or lost this particular round, and especially on whether the Pope’s strategy on this occasion was good or bad, and whether he has revealed a failure or a weakness. That sort of commentary has some value, but it can be terribly self-centered and, even if it isn’t, it is likely to be myopic, missing the big picture.

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