Sunday, September 27, 2015

Papal Visit Day 6 – La Famiglia

               The original and prime purpose of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States was to attend the World meeting of Families in Philadelphia.  While the Pope has emphasized the importance of the family throughout his trip, he was in full form last night.

    Abandoning his prepared remarks, no doubt to his translator’s chagrin, Pope Francis effusively spoke from the heart about the central role of the family in transmitting God’s beauty, God’s truth and God’s love.  Smiling and gesturing wildly as his pace quickened, the Pope spoke of parents who sustain the family through hard work carried out through love; he spoke of children as the future and strength of the family; and he spoke of grandparents as the family’s living memory. 

                The most poignant part of the Holy Father’s remarks, I think, was when he said that “All of the love that God has in himself, all of the beauty that he has in himself, he gives it to the family.  And the family is really family when it is able to open its arms and receive all that love.”  To emphasize his point, the Pope asked, “And where did he send his Son – to a palace?  To a city?  No. He sent him to a family.  God sent him amid a family.  And he could do this because it was a family that had a truly open heart.”

                I couldn’t help but think of my own family while Pope Francis spoke – my wife and daughters, my parents, my brother and sisters, my grandparents, my aunts, uncles and cousins.  I am blessed with a large family that has opened its arms to receive God’s love.  May we all follow Pope Francis’ plea – “Let’s protect the family, because it is in the family that our future is in play.”

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Papal Visit Day 5 – Dynamic Love

             I thought today’s post would start off with the Pope’s visit to the Liberty Bell.  I thought I was going to write about his address in front of Independence Hall, and perhaps even try to explain the Church’s position on immigration.  Then I saw a 2 minute 50 second video of Pope Francis’ arrival at the Philadelphia Airport, and all of these ideas went right out the window. 

                Unlike his previous arrivals, Pope Francis headed straight to his car after disembarking from his plane in Philadelphia without pressing into the waiting crowd for handshakes and blessings.  The black Fiat did a slow turn in front of the crowd as the Pope waved and gave a thumbs-up to the Bishop Shanahan High School band through his open window.  At the far end of the crowd, just as the car was about to take off for downtown Philly, Pope Francis suddenly turned to his driver and appeared to say, “Para” – “Stop!”  He got out of the car and walked straight over to Michael Keating, a 10-year old boy who’s confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy.  He took Michael’s face in his hands, drew Michael toward him, leaned heavily over the fence and kissed Michael’s head.    

                I’ve said before that love is dynamic, not static; it has to move.  So when we receive God’s love, we can’t hold it in.  We have to share it.  The reason I love Pope Francis is summed up perfectly in that 2 minute 50 second video:  Pope Francis is the epitome of dynamic love.  He just can’t hold it in.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Papal Visit Day 4 – The People Person

                Today’s observation started a few days ago when I noticed that Pope Francis generally has seemed pretty somber or stoic at his public events.  I certainly understand if he’s tired or nervous, and I hear that his sciatica has been acting up.  But last night, I saw something different.   When he greeted Cardinal Dolan on the tarmac at JFK Airport, his face broke into a warm, broad smile as they exchanged a brotherly embrace – a “man hug,” as my daughter would call it.  Later, at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, he worked the crowd as he walked up the center aisle, grabbing the hand of a religious sister and caressing the face of a young girl in a wheel chair.  It’s clear that Pope Francis loves people.

                Pope Francis’ love of people was all-the-more evident today.  His address to the General Assembly of the United Nations was all about people and how the nations of the world need to work together to help real people facing real problems.  At the 9/11 Museum, he spent time with families who lost loved ones on that tragic day, mourning with people who mourn.  That beaming smile returned this afternoon at Our Lady Queen of the Angels School in East Harlem where he laughed and played with the children, and was the subject of countless selfies.  He then hopped on the Pope Mobile to greet some 80,000 people (you read that right) who came out to show the Pope who loves people that they love him too.  Pope Francis’ day was topped off with the celebration of the Holy Mass, our most cherished liturgy, with 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden.  It’s quite fitting that liturgy means “the work of the people.”

          Popes usually sign their names with the suffix P.P., which stands for Supreme Pontiff.  Folksy Pope Francis doesn’t use that title, but maybe he should.  In his case, though, I think it would stand for People Person.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Papal Visit Day 3 – Pontifex Maximus

Today’s events, I think, showed the American people who Pope Francis really is.  First up was his address to a Joint Session of Congress.  Announced by House Majority Leader Boehner as “Pope Francis of the Holy See,” the Holy Father was introduced as a statesman, but his dual roles as Head of State of the Holy See and Chief Shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church can never be separated.  His address to Congress proved that. 

Personally, I think the Pope’s speech was brilliant – rhetorically adept, substantively courageous and pastorally sensitive.  Pope Francis invoked our historical memory and four great American icons – Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton – to enter into personal dialogue with the American people.  The Pope didn’t shy away from tough issues.  He spoke of climate change, immigration, ideological extremism, poverty and the defense of human life at all stages.  He didn’t judge or scold.  In his characteristically gentle way, Pope Francis acknowledged differences of opinion on these challenging issues and offered himself as a bridge builder.  He reminded us of our greatness as “One Nation under God,” and encouraged us to always move forward as a world leader in the areas of freedom, civil liberty, social justice and openness to God.
          Following his address to Congress, Pope Francis moved from the halls of power to the table of the poor.  He toured Catholic Charities facilities at St. Patrick Church in downtown Washington and had lunch with the homeless at St. Patrick’s soup kitchen.  He bridged the divide between the mighty and the lowly with grace.  Today, I think, the people of the United States learned who Pope Francis really is.  He’s not a politician, he’s not a fundamentalist; he’s not a communist.  He’s Pontifex Maximus – the greatest bridge builder. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Papal Visit Day 2 – ¡Adelante!


              Today certainly was a busy day for Pope Francis in Washington, DC.  He started off the day with an official state welcome at the White House, followed by a meeting with the President, a little parade around the Ellipse, Mid-day Prayer at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral with the U.S. bishops, and finally the canonization Mass for Saint Junipero Serra.

                Two things in particular struck me during today’s events.  First, I found it interesting how comfortable people are with Pope Francis.  There used to be a day when regular old folks would never touch the Pope.  Today, people couldn’t seem to keep their paws off him - shaking his hand, patting his shoulder, giving him warm embraces.  To me, this familiarity is wonderful, and it speaks volumes about the man that Pope Francis is – warm, approachable, Christ-like.  He is a pastor who loves his sheep, and his sheep love him back.

                The second thing that struck me was the theme of Pope Francis’ homily during the canonization Mass:  ¡Adelante!  In Spanish, adelante is a command that means “forward,” as in “Move forward!”  Pope Francis attributed Saint Junipero’s success in bringing the Word of God to the native peoples of California to the fact that he just kept going forward.  Nothing stopped him in his efforts to evangelize.  Pope Francis invited us to join him, saying:  “Let’s keep moving forward.”  I think this message is particularly important in the United States as our country struggles to reconcile our deep religious roots with a growing move to secularize our society.  It’s a long-term struggle, but if we keep moving forward, I am confident that we will remain, One Nation Under God.  ¡Adelante!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Papal Visit – Day 1

          With Pope Francis gracing the shores of the United States for the first time, I thought I’d provide a little commentary on whatever may strike me as interesting during his visit. Since the Pope just arrived, and he had no official events or public comments, today was a slow news day. So I’d like to kick off this series by responding to a question I saw posted on the internet:

Question: When politicians state that the Pope should stay out of politics and science, isn't that a pretty absurd position, regardless of a person's religion?

Response: Yes and no. The Catholic Church and, therefore, the Pope and Bishops, claim teaching authority in the areas of faith and morals only. The Church claims no expertise in the areas of politics, economics, science, literature, the arts, etc. That said, faith and morals touch on all aspects of human existence, including politics, economics, science, literature, the arts, etc. For example, Pope Francis recently has been critical of certain aspects of capitalism and communism. His criticism has been based upon the dogma of the dignity of the human person and the moral imperative that arises from it, which requires that we give preferential treatment to the poor. When a political or economic system, law or other government act fails to respect and promote the dignity of the human person, the Church will speak out against it. While this may look like dabbling in politics or economics, the Pope is speaking about a moral issue that’s arising out of a politico-economic system. The Pope and Bishops are careful (most of them) not to make pronouncements that are outside of the Church’s areas of expertise – they don’t tell governments how to achieve their political ends, but they will comment on whether the means and ends chosen are moral. It’s not an absurd position to say that the Pope should stay out of politics and science because these are not the Church’s areas of expertise. However, it is an absurd position to expect that the Church’s teachings would not have ramifications on the other disciplines Such as politics and science because faith and morals touch all aspects of human existence.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Three-Ply Cord

          A wedding homily for a wonderful couple who tied the knot today.

          It was about a year ago that I first met Victoria and Spencer for our first marriage preparation session.  I distinctly remember that Victoria was very nervous.  Perhaps it was wedding jitters; perhaps it was standing in the presence of such a charismatic deacon – I don’t know – but I do know that she was very nervous.  By stark contrast, Spencer was completely at ease, cool as a cucumber.  While Victoria sat upright, with perfect posture and her hands clenched crisply in her lap, Spencer melted into his chair, leaned back and rested his elbows comfortably on the arm rests.  I found it interesting how two people who had such different reactions to the same situation, could find in each other the perfect partner for marriage.  The readings that Victoria and Spencer chose for us today explain how.

            In our first reading from Genesis, we hear that the creation of woman arises out of God’s loving concern that it’s not good for man to be alone.  (Genesis 2: 18)  Our second reading from Ecclesiastes explains God’s rationale quite simply:  “Two are better than one.”  (Ecclesiastes 4: 9)  A litany of proof follows:  If one falls, the other will help the fallen; if two sleep together they will keep each other warm.   But did you notice that this passage from Ecclesiastes has a curious ending?  Listen to it again:  “Where one alone may be overcome, two together can resist.  A three-ply cord is not easily broken.”  Weren’t we just talking about two being better than one?  Where did three come from?  Well, our Gospel makes that clear.  When two come together in love, nothing can break them.  “Love is the golden thread that binds Jesus, his followers, and the Father, who is love itself.”[1]

            God is love, and Jesus tells us that if we remain in God’s love, our joy will be complete.  “In Christianity, love is the reason, the means, and the end of life.”[2]  We are meant to love.  So while two are better than one, two with love – two with God – can endure all things.  A successful marriage, therefore, needs God; it needs love.

          Now, I don’t want to sound too icky sweet about love because love isn’t always easy.  “Love, as distinct from ‘being in love’ is not merely a feeling.  It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit.”[3]  We have to work at it.  Victoria and Spencer, I’m sure you’ve heard many people say that you have to work at marriage (all of the married couples are nodding their heads – some more enthusiastically than others); well, that’s because you have to work at love.
Let’s face it, we’re not always loving, and we’re not always lovable.  But remaining in God’s love, bringing God’s love into your marriage, means that you’ll love anyway.  Remaining in God’s love will mean maintaining a constant contact with him and with each other, arranging life, arranging prayer, arranging silence in such a way that there is never a day when you give yourself a chance to forget God or each other.[4]  It will mean that you’ll accept each other, flaws and all, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in snoring at night and in bad breath in the morning.  If you remain in God, love will be the tie that binds you.

                    It was about a month ago that I met with Victoria and Spencer for our last marriage preparation session.  I distinctly remember that Spencer was very nervous.  Perhaps it was wedding jitters; perhaps it was standing in the presence of such a charismatic deacon – I don’t know – but I do know that he was very nervous.  By stark contrast, Victoria was completely at ease, cool as a cucumber.  Victoria sat back comfortably in her chair, still with perfect posture and her hands folded gently in her lap, while Spencer leaned forward with his forearms on his knees, wringing his hands and worrying about what I was going to do to him today.  (You ain’t seen nothing, yet).  I still find it interesting how two people who had such different reactions to the same situation could find in each other the perfect partner for marriage.  But Victoria and Spencer, I know how, because during the past year, I’ve seen how much you love each other.  I’ve seen it in the smiles and the laughs you exchange; I’ve seen it in the reassurances and the compromises you offer each other; and I’ve seen it in the way you comfort each other when one of you is nervous.  Two are better than one, but you two are the best because you’ve invited God, you’ve invited love, into your marriage.  If you remain in God’s love, your joy will be complete, and your marriage will be as strong as a three-ply cord.

Readings: Genesis 2: 18-24; Psalm 103;Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12; John 15: 9-12

[1] Scott M. Lewis, “The Gospel According to John,” New Collegeville Bible Commentary: New Testament, Daniel Durkin, ed. (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2009) at 350.
[2] Michael Patella, Angels and Demons: A Christian Primer of the Spiritual World (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2010) at 81.
[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, Harper Collins, 2001) at 109.
[4] See William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 2 (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 1975) at 176.