Pope Francis’ visit to the United States was historic. Mary and I were thankful when he left safely as many of you were, I’m sure. I can only imagine the sigh of relief of security personnel when his plane lifted off US soil. His visit was more than historic. There were teaching moments worthy of our reflection.
I differ theologically on some issues with the Pope, such as the role of Mary, or the need to confess our sins to a Priest. But his visit left profound impressions I found refreshing. Yes, I wish he had said more about the persecution of Christians worldwide. I applauded his concerns about how we are tampering with family life in America, and tearing at its foundation. Some climate change talk – problems and solutions – is questionable. But a call to be intentional stewards of the earth, trumpeted by the Pope, is a biblical call. Let me leave these issues alone. I want to share with you three inspiring memories I have from the Pope’s visit.
My first memory is the overwhelming response to the visit of this spiritual leader. How can anyone reasonably say there is no spiritual hunger in America? People clamored to see the Pope, touch him or have him touch and bless them. I confess, I often thought of Jesus’ disciple, Peter, when Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him (The Bible, Acts 10:25). “But Peter pulled him up and said, ‘Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!’” (The Bible, Acts 10:26). Peter’s response shows us how we should see ourselves as spiritual leaders. We can understand the inclination to get close to someone of such stature. Was it spiritual seeking for the right reasons? We can’t know. But it was the seeking of a spiritual leader for some reason. There is spiritual hunger in people today. At times, it seems like a muffled grumble of someone’s stomach before dinner, but it’s there. French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, diagnosed it this way: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.” Try as we may to stuff something else in that hole, it will always fall short. Because it’s a God-shaped vacuum. The Pope’s visit showed me spiritual hunger is alive and real.
A second memory is the Pope’s disarming simplicity. This headline from today’s DailyMail.com catches the shadow cast by this Pope: “What would Jesus have been driven in? Dwarfed by massive secret service SUVs, Pope Francis is a big man in a little car as he’s driven away in a tiny Fiat 500 after arriving in the U.S.” Does that not challenge our bigger is better status mantra? He turned down a Congressional luncheon to have lunch with the homeless. He could have been honored royally. He chose to honor others no one else would honor. This is teaching in the most effective way – by example. It certainly was a lesson for me.
A third memory is the power of love demonstrated. A love, in this case, that is rooted in Jesus Christ. Who was not moved by the Pope’s desire to be with children over and over? His security detail must have sweat nervously as he stopped his motorcade numerous times to talk with someone in need. I felt tears in my eyes as he stopped to bless a child in a wheelchair. This man is powerful and influential. What is his message? Love! Write it off as syrupy sweet, feel-good talk if you dare. I cannot. The essence of God’s character is love. Soak in this biblical truth for a bit: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” So, when I saw The Pope’s loving identity with the poor, it challenged me. I want God’s love to flow through me in visible ways.
I’m thankful the Pope came to America. There were memorable teaching moments, even if a word had not been spoken.