While the pundits and politicians are spinning the message of the pontiff, here are seven lessons I have learned in just this very short time.
"Speak tenderly to them. Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don't only give your care, but give your heart as well." Blessed Mother Teresa
If you've been around these parts, you know I love me some Mother Teresa. I don't think it is a stretch to say that the Pope is a fan too. While there is a lot of bellyaching on social media . . . well many media . . . about whether the Pope is Catholic enough, this right here is the lesson he is teaching us, I think. Speak tenderly to them . . . Who looks upon the Holy Father and sees anything but joy, kindness, compassion, and love? (Ok, don't answer that.) I cannot look upon his face and see anything but that, even behind the seeming exhaustion of a grueling schedule on this trip.
No, he didn't take his moment on the White House lawn to publicly reprimand President Obama. There is a great lesson in that discretion. He recognizes that there is a dignity inherent to every person, and ridicule and reprimand are not the way to uphold that. Speak tenderly to them, whoever they may be . . .
"...you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face." Pope Francis to the United States Congress
...the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face. This is perhaps the great commission of Pope Francis - to see in one another the image and likeness of God. Too often we label one another based on assumption and our life's situations. It is time to throw the labels aside, and as Christian disciples, see through to the imprint of God on the person. Every person. Regardless of ability. Regardless of political inclinations. Regardless, really, even of threat. We as citizens of a nation should be working to protect that inherent dignity of all people.
"But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners." Pope Francis to the United States Congress
If we were to reduce our stories to read "righteous" or "sinners," I think it is safe to say that we would all be overflowing in the latter category. It is tempting to fall into the mindset of the older prodigal who, believing he has done everything the father has ever asked, is angry when the father welcomes with open arms his younger brother who has gone more than just a little bit astray. How is that fair? We must remember that God judges us by our own measure, and not in comparison to one another. Any movement toward the right path should be encouraged. We should be looking to help people along the journey to God rather than focusing on all the baggage that they may still be carrying with them. I should always rejoice when someone returns to God or turns toward Him in the slightest.
"Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life." Pope Francis to the United States CongressSacrifice. Ooof. Right. I don't get to have everything I desire (not need, desire) while others are in need. It is my duty as a citizen, and more so as a Christian disciple, to discipline myself against consumerism, against a privileged attitude, so others can also share in the wealth of this country. I'll tell you - as a lower-middle class family who struggles at times to make ends meet on our own, that's hard to swallow sometimes. However, we have the benefit of family and friends who help us along. We aren't entitled to work that lets us make more than we need. It would make us more comfortable, but it is not our right. God provides. He does. Sometimes, God provides through others' generosity. While there is definitely a difference of philosophy on how we provide for the common good (private action vs. social safety net), we must provide. We have to be willing to make sacrifices to provide for one another's needs.
"It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us." Pope Francis to the US Bishops
The message of Christ is a message for everyone. If people feel excluded from the mercy and love of Christ, then we must examine how, or if, we are proclaiming it. I wrote some time ago about how we might make Catholicism more attractive. Pope Francis is living it! God help us, the world knows what the Church is against when it comes to today's cultural norms. They do. Really. It is time to start preaching a Gospel that invites people to see themselves as part of the integral life of the Church, regardless of their scars. It is time to invite people to open their hearts to a Church that proclaims Jesus as one who lifts burdens, not imposes them.
"We must avoid the temptation to discard what seems troublesome." Pope Francis to the United States CongressHave you seen the face of Francis? I don't have an image that I have permission to use. But seriously, have you seen his face when he greets the people on the street? He is beaming. He stops the motorcade to bless the disabled and he is pure joy looking on the face of children with special needs. He stops into the Little Sisters of the Poor (who are fighting a battle with the government on the contraception mandate) to show them he is with them. He is the face of love and joy to all, but especially to those who others may see as an inconvenience. Are we?
"If there are any among you who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you to send good wishes my way." Pope Francis to the crowds outside the US Capitol
These words, this act by the Holy Father, struck me as the most profound moment of his trip thus far. The pontiff, the Vicar of Christ, is asking those who have no belief or disposition to pray, to lift up their hearts to him anyway. This certainly makes me take a second look at how I approach those who have little to no belief - or if I approach them at all. I delve more into the details of why over at CatholicMom.com on Monday, so stay tuned!
I can't wait to dig into the words of the Holy Father during the rest of his visit. Today's attempt at listening to the UN address was foiled by a restless toddler. He did really well for the Congressional address yesterday, but another morning was too much to ask . . . even with M&Ms!
What has been your experience of having the Pope in the United States?
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