Call the pope’s visit a moment of grace. Or many moments, actually, when we felt through Francis that heady connection to something bigger and greater than ourselves.
I suppose the question now is whether we act on those moments and respond to Francis’ call. Or whether we let this week just slip away and go right back to our frenzy of jobs, kids, commitments; to texts, emails, and internet click bait: “Amy Schumer’s wild bikini adventure!” And “Suri Cruise is all grown up!”
Surely there were enough such “moments” last week to cause even cynical Catholics pause.
Pope Francis’ little Fiat. His passing up lunch on Capitol Hill for the homeless, and later, visiting the jailed. His laughing in thorough enjoyment when he spied the infant dressed up like a teeny tiny pope. His kissing and blessing wheelchair-bound Michael Keating, 10, who has cerebral palsy, and taking in his hands the hands of Michael’s overwhelmed mother.
I’ve heard of churches near empty most Sundays that were filled this Sunday past. A lapsed Catholic, long discouraged by her local parish’s cringe-worthy hymns and her pastor’s harsh homilies, told me she’ll spend time looking for a welcoming parish now, because of Francis.
I heard and read that word over and over. On TV, commentators and even their interviewees were showing off their Catholic bona fides. CNN anchors Chris Cuomo and Erin Burnett both proudly declared themselves observant. It was all quite a turn-around from the darkest of the sex abuse days, or when Pope Benedict XVI made another reference to “disordered” and evil gays. Then a Catholic might be asked to defend, again, their religion’s apparent bigotry.
But suddenly last week, Catholicism became hip and cool.
And there was Pope Francis — gently, civilly, charmingly, no condemning or judging word — urging his priests and bishops and his people to do the real work, to visit the margins of society, too, and soothe the sick and poor and desperate.
Contrast Francis’ soft-spoken evangelizing to the brash boorishness of our lowest common denominator political discourse. Think GOP frontrunner Donald Trump calling opponents stupid, morons, losers, total losers, even ridiculing Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee’s sweatiness during the GOP debate.
“Jesus keeps knocking on our doors, the doors of our lives. He doesn’t do this by magic, with special effects, with flashing lights and fireworks,” Francis said. He knocks via “the faces of our brothers and sisters, in the faces of our neighbors, in the faces of those at our side.”
The invitation is subtle. And we decide whether to open that door, or not.
Love is shown by small things and “holiness is always tied to the little gestures, “ Francis said. The warm meal waiting for us, the hug and encouragement at the end of the day. “The quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children.”
These are signs that Jesus is working among us, he said.
And we decide whether to let him take the reins, trusting, as Pope Francis did. Remember how he rode around the United States of America, notorious for our violent gun culture, in a car with his window open, in a popemobile open not only on the sides but also in the back. He was vulnerable, and I cannot be the only American who felt relief when he got on his plane back to Rome, safe and unscathed.
Of course, on some level, we all know that even Donald Trump can’t take his billions with him; that getting and consuming does not satisfy for long; that the golden rule has survived for centuries because it’s the best way to live, even if it sets a standard too high for most to meet. We know, when we stop top really think, that there is another way, another truth, another life.
But we’re rarely reminded of it by someone attempting, humbly, to walk the walk. We’re rarely reminded of it by someone who makes that different life seem so appealing, even joyful.
In my moments of grace last week, I was reminded of the beautiful lines from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”
Francis was asking us just that: to think about such things, even to practice such things. Then the peace of God will be with you, the Gospel promises, as the peace of God seemed to be with and in and all around this holy man, Pope Francis.