September 25, 2015
Happy Friday! Happy Pope day! How awesome it is to have the leader of our Church, our spiritual dad, in our great city among us. Some of you have already seen him, and I’m sure, many of us hope to see him while he is here on this short visit. But it is not only the Catholic Church who loves the Pope, it’s the whole world! (Pretty much.) Interest and support for Pope Francis cuts across nearly every societal boundary we use to categorize and divide ourselves: sexuality, political affiliation, income level, religion, ethnicity, and so on. And don't get me wrong... this is GREAT. I love it. But - this diversity of interest makes for some interesting headlines, to put it lightly. Sometimes, they are humorous (remember that one time that he said something about Catholic married couples “breeding like rabbits,” or however he was misquoted? or the "all dogs go to heaven" thing?), but sometimes they are unfoundedly wishful.
My husband and I talked last night about an article that took Pope Francis’ outreach to the gay community was evidence that he was going to “soften” the Church’s stance on gay marriage; relatedly, it also suggested that the pardon granted to women who have had an abortion was evidence that he would “soften” the Church’s stance on abortion. These types of messages are everywhere, but they come out of an incomplete view of how the Pope functions to preserve the Church. But there’s something different about Pope Francis, and he inspires hope for change in parts of Church teaching that are increasingly at odds with public opinion. And even so, it’s abundantly clear that the world realizes that there’s something worth talking about, rallying around, cheering for, even loving, in Pope Francis.
However, there are just as many reasons to love Pope Francis as there are expectations for what kind of change he is going to bring to the Church.
Yesterday, in Mass, I was struck by how the gospel reading very clearly mirrors the public view of Pope Francis (Luke 9:7-9):
"Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was greatly perplexed because some were saying, 'John has been raised from the dead'; others were saying, 'Elijah has appeared'; still others, 'One of the ancient prophets has arisen.' But Herod said, 'John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?' And he kept trying to see him.”
"And he kept trying to see him.” - This last line rang like a bell, over and over in my head after it was spoken. Isn’t this public response to Jesus and disciples; who had just received a blessing from Jesus to go out among the people and cast out demons, cure diseases, and preach the good news; much like the public response to our Pope Francis? The world sees news items where the Holy Spirit is spurring revolution, and our human attention is grasped and emotions heightened where He pulls on our quiet and invisible souls.
“He kept trying…” - Think of the people who are coming to see Francis, who are attracted to him without really knowing why, who arch their backs and extend their necks to get a good look at the even just the tip of his finger above the crowd… People keep trying to see him, in person and in his person.
Herod would eventually see Jesus face to face, and he still would not really see Him, because Herod was attracted by a thin interest in Jesus’ miracles. Herod was attracted to Jesus for what he himself wanted Jesus to do for him, which was to entertain, and when Jesus did not do that, Herod lost interest; Herod couldn’t make Jesus dance, as much as he tried.
"Who then is this…” - People keep trying to figure out what impact Francis will have on different human systems of power, but changing government is not Francis’ end goal: he wants to impact human hearts through better representing His Human Heart. Francis calls us to be the humble bearer of a message, a Word, a call beyond this world, to keep trying to see the Lord in the midst of the world's pomp and flurry of fame and power. Some say Francis will play this political role, some say he will play a role in the environment's healing, some are just enamored at the fact that a Pope in the 21st century has achieved such celebrity status... the list goes on and on. But Pope Francis showed us all from his very first public address that he knew his true role: a servant.
"And now I would like to give the blessing, but first first I ask a favor of you: before the bishop blesses his people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me: the prayer of the people asking the blessing for their bishop. Let us make, in silence, this prayer: your prayer over me.”
I will never forget watching that address, sitting at my office desk, and bursting into tears upon hearing those words. God is with us, brothers and sisters, and we are all called to be holy, we are all called to incite this depth of hope in others.
Pope Francis’ impact on the world makes it clear that people do not want another world leader, they want God. They want Jesus, a Savior, they want Mercy, healing, grace, things that humans (even Pope Francis) cannot give, but things that humans, like Pope Francis, can invoke. Brothers and sisters, in this time of great excitement shared with many people in NYC, I ask that we all hold fast to the truths that this excitement points us too. And let us be joyful, for we have among us a servant bearing in himself the likeness of our Lord.