As we approach the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century son of a wealthy Italian cloth merchant, who abandoned his father and his wealth and founded the Franciscan Order of Friars, the Poor Clares order for women and the Third order of Franciscans for men and women, married and single, it is fitting that we reflect on the visit to the United States by Pope Francis. Francis takes his name from this Saint who lived a life of simplicity, poverty and humility as he followed Jesus’ call to “rebuild His Church.”
I believe first off that the Pope’s visit to the United States opened the eyes and hearts of many Americans to God’s presence in the world, to the presence of the Holy Spirit. I believe this is true whether one is Catholic or Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu as well as many other persons who believe in a creator or creative power. I even sense that some unbelievers are impressed with the Pope’s presence, ministry and message in the world.
I am excited that Pope Francis spent five days in the United States, that he visited the centers of political, financial and spiritual power in our country. I agree with the Pope on parts of his message such as climate change and the dangers of unbridled capitalism, and disagree with other parts such as the blessing of same sex relationships, and while I am not a fan of abortion, I do believe it is a woman’s decision and not the church’s or the government’s decision. I doubt that any person agrees with all that the Pope believes about politics, religion and the world.
What excites me about Francis’ visit is that, like Jesus, he does not let the opinions or the actions of others prevent him from proclaiming, by word and action, God’s truth as he understands it. As he proclaims his truth, his message, many Americans get both excited and angry, often at the same time. When the Pope talks about Global Warming or the Economy, and capital punishment liberal Americans feel that he is on their side. When he preaches against abortion and same-sex marriage, conservatives believe that he is with them. What excites me in all of this is the Pope’s message that mercy overcomes sin. The Pope still believes that homosexual relationships should not be sanctioned by the church but welcomes gay people into the fellowship. He believes that abortion is a sin, but has instructed his bishops that women who have abortions can be forgiven.
Like Jesus, the Pope speaks truth to power and is willing to face the consequences that go with speaking this truth. “With the power of his humility, he communicated the message of the gospel that speaks not only to our inward spiritual needs, but also to the sociopolitical realities of our daily lives. His message challenged both conservatives and progressives.”(Carlos Malave, Sorjourners)
In his historic visit to Congress, Pope Francis declared, among other things:
“The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially its causes.
“Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples.”
“In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.”
Not all members of congress agreed with all the Pope had to say, though he did get an ovation for his proclamation of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”(Matthew 7:12) If his visit accomplished no more than the sometimes living of the Golden Rule by the congress and people of the United States, then we have all been blessed.
The Pope affirmed at Mass at Madison Square Garden, that, “knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope.”
All I can add to this is, “Amen! So be it!