Dear Friends in Christ,
Pope Francis arrives in the United States this week. This trip is his very first to our country, not just as Pope, but his first ever. There are dozens of articles about our preparations for the Masses, the security on the east coast, expectations of what he will say to the people of our nation and the ways Catholics and non-Catholics respond to our very popular Pope.
I take this opportunity to reflect on our response to Pope Francis. We will listen to many newscasts about what he says and does not say. We will hear many political commentaries about his challenges to us and to the world. We will hear on television and read on the Internet about who is on his side and who is not. We will be bombarded with commentary about how to put the Pope’s words, values and religion on a political spectrum.
How do we listen to Pope Francis this week? From what perspective or on what ground do we interpret his words, listen to his challenges and understand his consolation? How does our faith enter into receiving Pope Francis to the United States?
I think these are important questions for us. I thought I would reflect briefly on how to listen to Pope Francis this week.
We listen to Pope Francis as Christians, as Roman Catholics. We listen to Pope Francis’ speeches with a deeper perspective than our political system suggests. We do not listen to Pope Francis as Republicans or Democrats or as Independents. We listen instead from the rich heritage we have as Christians, as Roman Catholics. This means our ears must listen to his words as belonging to the Church that is Universal, articulating the needs of people throughout the world. The Pope speaks out for the spiritual needs of people as well as the human needs of people across the globe. The Pope is concerned about the big picture, war and violence, food and freedom, peace and integrity, reconciliation and hope for all people.
We listen from the message of the Scriptures. The scriptures for today’s Mass are good examples for us to consider as the Pope arrives this week. The letter from James states, “ Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder of every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits… And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” Mark’s gospel becomes key for us to understand Pope Francis’ message, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” The message of Christ Jesus is not dead. We listen from these sacred texts as people of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord. We listen from our faith, from our heritage as people who belong to the Word of God.
We listen from our belief in the Eucharist itself. The Eucharist is the center of our faith as Roman Catholics. The real presence of Christ means that our hope for new life is real. The Eucharist is a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. This means that God’s Kingdom is revealed to us in the simple presence of Christ Jesus is bread and wine. Jesus’ real presence invites us into the eternal messages of peace, forgiveness, unity, love, compassion and hope for all people. We listen to the challenges of Pope Francis because we find our place at God’s table. We must become what we eat, to live in the world what we share around the Table of God. We must work diligently for peace, for our belief in the real presence of Jesus in our world through our actions in the world.
We listen from our tradition of Catholic Social Teaching. The tradition of the Church has outlined some basic themes that include: sanctity of human life and dignity of the human person, call to family, community and participation and the pursuit of the Common Good, preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, the dignity of work, and the care of God’s creation and solidarity and universality of the goods of the earth. These themes come from various documents of the Church from the last several hundred years. In our diocese, Catholic Charities helps us implement the message of Catholic Social Teaching. Catholic Social Teaching connects the Eucharist and service in our world, an essential element of our faith. Learn more while Pope Francis visits our country about Catholic Social Teaching.
We listen to Pope Francis being aware of his life experiences. Pope Francis was a priest of a religious community, the Society of Jesus, commonly called the Jesuits. He has been formed by a life of prayer that is unlike other popes. He has served men in formation for the Jesuits and has served people in dire poverty. His perspective on the Church and how we live the gospel in the world is profound and his humility comes from his experience of being with the poor and marginalized on the streets of Argentina. He is first a man of deep faith and prayer. We need to learn to listen to life experience as well as his words.
We listen from our own lives of prayer, from our own informed conscience. Our prayer forms our lives. Authentic prayer changes our perspectives on the world and allows us to change. Our own prayer is essential in our lives of conversion. I invite you to pray through the messages of Pope Francis while he is here in the United States. Pope Francis is a profound source of prayer for us all, a model of the mature believer and the leader of our Church.
I am confident that Pope Francis will not say anything new. However, his words and actions will reflect everything ancient, reflecting and living out the words and actions of Christ Jesus.
I hope you will take this opportunity to learn more about our faith as we listen together to Pope Francis during his US visit. I encourage you to pray for him and for us, to live out the message of hope from our gospel in our world and times.