Monday, September 28, 2015

A Pilgrim's Impressions, A Papa's Promises

Having just returned from a grace-filled pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families--
along with 25 courageous and holy souls from the Diocese of Joliet--
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the beautiful visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. 
Here are a few impressions from our journey, for your consideration:

  • Not tourists, but pilgrims: Our plans, our wants, our routines, and our comforts are the whiny demands of tourists; His plans and His desires--which usually call us from our comfort zones--forge the adventurous path of pilgrims on a journey home to God.

  • Our Lady, Un-doer of Knots, Pray for us: Though the ancient enemy works to prevent us from receiving God's grace, the Blessed Virgin Mary has already crushed its head; she can un-tie anything that is bound and loosen anything that is tangled.

  • The Church in Africa and Asia: The light of Christ is shining brightly from these "developing" continents; former "mission territories" are now sending missionary disciples to the spiritually underdeveloped nations of the western world.

  • The Pope's speeches at the joint session of Congress and at Independence Hall: A modern-day Fisherman from Galilee walks into this present moment to remind our nation of its own past, so that we might reclaim a fully human future for our children and grandchildren.

  • Families from over 100 countries: A global world needs a global body of brothers and sisters to reach out to those who are being left behind by globalization itself; the Church exists to be this web of connections, fostering unity within diversity.

  • A papal "heart to heart" at a festival of families: A "father of many" speaks from the heart, especially to those who have wandered far from home or those who feel like orphans; he draws us all together as on precious family cherished by a heavenly Father.

  • A city transformed into a Cathedral: Many hundreds of thousands of hungry souls stand silently to hear the Word of God, to listen to a homily in Spanish from the first pope of the Americas, and to flock to receive the Bread of Life as if it were Jesus himself!

Who says miracles don't happen every day?  Who says that, even in 2015, people are not looking for Someone to unite us?  Papa Francesco knows that "our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love" (EG, n. 265)--and that Jesus reveals the very face of such a Love.

Viva la Papa!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Are You Following Francis?!

Papal Visit 2015

"I like that face." Fans of It's a Wonderful Life will recall that Clarence Oddbody, the angel-second-class, makes this famous remark about the film's protagonist, George Bailey.

Well, how about the face above?!

I know a number of people who say that they just love Pope Francis' face, his smile, his expressions.  Whatever "It" is, he's got It.  People with the eyes to see recognize that there is something real and warm and welcoming here.

As with our recent run of holy Holy Fathers, it makes me wonder: When we look at the face of Francis, might we also be catching a glimpse of the face of Another?  During this week of the pope's high-profile "face time" in D.C., NYC, and Philly, keep your eyes open for favorite moments within the barrage of video footage and photos of Pope Francis.  And keep your heart open for signs of the Holy Spirit at work throughout this Apostolic visit.


Following Francis can be as easy as joining 7 million others who are tracking him on Twitter @pontifex :)  But, ultimately, it will require opening our minds and hearts to hear the fullness of the Gospel Pope Francis is proclaiming, as he the successor of Peter the fisherman.

By process of elimination, the question of whether we are following Francis seems to be this:  If it's not the Holy Father, who or what are we following?! Considering the various lame alternatives--the empty promises of the world, the flesh and the devil--whom else would we follow other than Jesus in the footsteps of Francis?  St. Peter himself summed it up pretty well when he said to Jesus, "Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68).

Monday, September 14, 2015

Don't Look Away, Don't Blink

It can be hard to gaze upon the Crucified Christ, let alone not avert our eyes when he gazes back at us.  It may be even harder to look into the face of Our Lady of Sorrows; it's much easier to look away.

With only a week to go until Pope Francis arrives, I wonder whether Catholics in the U.S. will have the courage to look him in the eye.  After all, it will be very tempting to selectively choose what already fits with our political or economic (self)interests, and then collectively ignore anything that challenges our personal or cultural status quo.

Since his election as pope in 2013, evidence of this dynamic has been legion (the pun is not intentional but may be fitting).  A recent and ongoing example of this "look away" dynamic centers on Pope Francis' new environmental encyclical.

Political liberals have lauded Laudato Si', even as they continue to ignore the Holy Father's relentless promotion of so-called "social issues" such as marriage and family, religious liberty and protection of those who are most vulnerable.  Political conservatives, on the other hand, seem intent on finding ways to dismiss this encyclical, even as they cheer Pope Francis' rejection of gender theory and his critique of the "ideological colonization" of families.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Laboring against Nationalism this Patriot Day

With Labor Day falling as late as possible this September, our shortened holiday work week closes with Patriot Day this Friday the 11th.

This week of national holidays raises a question: Can you still remember where you were on September 11, 2001?  A fantastic four-minute clip from invites us to reflect on and remember the devastation of that day:  "9/11: On That Day"; it reminds us that faith, hope and love are still the most fully human ways to move forward, even in the face of intentional evil.

As with all suffering, the September 11th experience brought with it the paradoxical potential for God's grace to deliver an even greater good.  Whether it was a call to conversion, deeply felt by so many, or an opportunity to comfort those mourning and in a state of shock, 9/11/2001 saw the United States pull together in many important ways.  The world as a whole seemed to feel our pain, and signs of sincere compassion abounded.

Fourteen years later, the juxtaposition of a week book-ended by both Labor Day and Patriot Day seems to raise another question: What have we been working for as a nation since 2001?  Have we been laboring to ensure that our country is more deeply committed to the common good, to just treatment of the most vulnerable--particularly children and the elderly--and to solidarity with all people?  These are the traits of a healthy love of country, an authentic patriotism.  This is the work which would honor those who died on 9/11.

Alternatively, we should ask whether our efforts to work together out of a sincere love of country have been threatened by a not-so-subtle nationalism.  Has this seductive ideology convinced us that our country and its agendas are of paramount importance?  It may take the form of "American exceptionalism", or of old-fashioned "isolationism".  It may be matter of sacrificing those who are most needy, or of imposing the will of the most powerful.  It may be the justification of our "preemptive" acts of violence, or it may be the passive refusal to assistance to those in need--for lack of compelling self-interest.

Monday, August 31, 2015

What Does Preparing for a Papal Visit Look Like?

If you received news that Pope Francis was going to visit your home, would your preparations include some vacuuming and light dusting? In my house, it might also include some fresh paint in the living room and an industrial carpet cleaner!

So what should our spiritual preparations look like as we count down to the Holy Father's visit to the U.S.? It's great to envision Pope Francis enjoying a cheese steak in Philly, or looping around DC's beltway in the pope mobile, or smiling as the faithful snap "selfies" in Times Square. But what else might we do to make September's Apostolic Visit as grace-filled as possible?

Here are a couple suggestions, following the lead of Francis himself:

  • Embrace the "World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation". Now that Papa Francesco has claimed September 1st as an annual day of prayer for all of creation, isn't it time to explore what "going green" and following Christ might have in common? In Laudato Si', Holy Father Francis writes that "the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she 'groans in travail' (Rom 8:22)" (n. 2).

  • Sign the petition to support the Pope's call for a human ecology. Contrary to the impression given by those who want to drive a wedge of discontinuity between the Pope and his predecessors, the Holy Father's new encyclical explicitly builds upon the foundation laid by St. John XXIII, Bl. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Using John Paul's luminous phrase, "human ecology", Francis quotes Benedict's insight that "the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence" (LS, n. 6). The myth of limitless human freedom has damaged both the natural and the social environments; concerted action on many different fronts can alone counteract such destruction.