The papal visit to the United States is wrapping up today, and any moment I’ve not been watching coverage, I’ve found myself deep in thought.
Pope Francis has given several speeches this week, including a few homilies, and then speaking to Congress and the United Nations, as well as the Bishops more than once, and then speeches at Independence Hall, the Festival of Families and the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.
After hearing the Holy Father at all of these events, I’ve found myself encouraged but also challenged.
And isn’t that what a father is supposed to do?
Before the Pope’s arrival, I think many of us were looking forward to the Holy Father coming to our aid in a bold way. “Guess what guys? My dad’s here now and he’s gonna let you know what’s up.” Those of us that are faithful to the Church have found ourselves feeling ridiculed and bullied by our secular culture, led primarily by the media in all its forms. We stand with the Church and her teachings while the culture around us changes in the name of progressivism (progressing towards what I’m not sure). We’re often referred to as being stuck in the past or old-fashioned, or even worse.
Papa arrives, and I’m excited. The visual I have in my head is of myself standing, facing the opposition with my arms crossed, waiting for my Pope to let everybody have it. Instead, Pope Francis opens his arms to everyone and welcomes them.
Fine. I tell myself the Pope will let ’em have it tomorrow at Congress.
But again I find myself a little hurt, and let’s be honest, jealous. “Papa, why are you being so gentle and welcoming? These people turned away from you. They’ve ridiculed God’s Church, and even more, they ridicule me. Tell them they’re wrong!”
Yet again, I find myself in the story of the prodigal son. And, yet again, I’m playing the role of the older son, letting feelings of pride and self-importance run rampant.
But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
After watching and listening to Pope Francis these few days, I’ve come away with a broader understanding of his mission. When he said “environment” and “climate change” I heard it through the filter of our American politics…how very American of me. But now I hear the Holy Father talking to the masses, calling them to step away from the culture of waste.
The culture of waste starts small. First you’re just tossing out silverware for a shiny new set, then later you find yourself not even grateful for the silverware, old or new. And then this throwaway mentality spreads. People think they have a right to toss out anything unwanted, even the elderly, the terminally ill or the unborn.
Pope Francis is reaching out to the masses, finding common ground, encouraging their desire to take care of our God-given natural resources so that future generations will not only take special care of the environment, but also welcome and care for other living things, like human beings.
And shouldn’t we take care of what God has given us? No parent would allow their child to keep their room in utter disarray, using clothing to mop up spills, all the while saying to their parents, “What’s the big deal? I’m going to grow out of these clothes in a month and you’ll get me new ones.” Rather, parents here on Earth and our Father in Heaven call on their children to show their trust with little things so that they can be trusted with greater things. If we can’t show honor and respect to something like a river given to us by God to provide us with water, how can we show honor and respect for human beings that seem to provide us with nothing except burden?
My challenge specifically? To step away from my pride and petty us vs them constructs. To make love grow.
This means standing for what’s right while simultaneously making people feel welcome. The beautiful Both/And concept the Church teaches.
But what does this look like in practice? Pope Francis warned against getting caught in incessant cycles of explaining of church teachings. I think I could do a little less sharing of articles, blog posts and the like, and do a little more of reaching out to those around me. Calling at least one person on the phone each week. Taking the time to actually comment on social media posts instead of just scrolling by or “liking” it. Finding common ground with those in my life who are opposed to me on various issues. Finding new ways to love my husband in ways he receives love best.
I once heard Fr. Longenecker speak at our parish, and he said something that stayed with me and I think it applies here. He advised to approach all things in life with saying Yes. At first, this made no sense to me. But then I realized it was the difference between approaching things with a hard heart and a loving heart. The Pharisees led with No. Leading with Yes means truly hearing what is being presented to you, and then making thoughtful decisions instead of being reactionary.
There’s a lot more to be said; I could go on to further explain in detail what I really meant here or when I said this I didn’t mean that. But I think I’ll just let it lay, and end with today’s readings, which I thought were a ideal end to Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.
The LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses.
Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses,
the LORD bestowed it on the seventy elders;
and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.
Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad,
were not in the gathering but had been left in the camp.
They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent;
yet the spirit came to rest on them also,
and they prophesied in the camp.
So, when a young man quickly told Moses,
“Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp, ”
Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been Moses’aide, said,
“Moses, my lord, stop them.”
But Moses answered him,
“Are you jealous for my sake?
Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!
Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”
Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.
Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
At that time, John said to Jesus,
“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”
Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.
Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink
because you belong to Christ,
amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'”