Monday, September 28, 2015

In the Afterglow of Pope Francis' US Visit: My Top Three plus links to all the talks

Confession: I have a talk to give in Cleveland Saturday evening, and it's on Pope Francis and the New Evangelization. You are the victims kindly audience of my inchoate reflections in view of putting that talk together. Some initial thoughts on this week with Pope Francis, starting with his first major talks; these are just things that stood out in particular for me. (I am still catching up on his talks and homily on Sunday.)


FIRST: This trip has been a media love-fest, hasn't it? Even if the headlines don't always do the Pope justice (headlines, after all, are not meant to communicate meaning, but to sell newspapers or generate clicks), the overall tenor has been incredibly positive and open to the Holy Father and his message. Pope Francis was not doing anything special. He was just being Pope Francis. He's the real deal, his words and outward behavior consistent with the Gospel he teaches. And that, I think, gave some "public Catholics" permission to witness to the faith in their own way. Three outstanding examples:
  • On Thursday night's Tonight Show, Stephen Colbert shared a conviction he received as a boy from his dad (who died in a plane crash when Stephen was only ten): "Apostles Creed and Follow Peter." Good advice! That, in a nutshell, is why Stephen Colbert is arguably the most high profile Catholic in popular culture.
  • In the same show, comedian Jim Gaffigan (who is becoming the second most high profile Catholic in popular culture) responded to a question from Colbert about the last time he went to confession. "About a month ago. No, maybe more than a month." In other words, the sacrament of Reconciliation is a normal part of his Catholic life.
  • And on CNN, anchor Poppy Harlow watched as the entire news crew ran toward the Popemobile, leaving her with the camera operator to carry on as she recounted her return to Sunday Mass because of the influence of Pope Francis. 
Three openly Catholic public figures, not doing or saying anything remarkably profound or making an awe-inspiring act of heroism in the name of Jesus (although maybe they really did): just being "openly Catholic" in the public eye. In their own way, these three show us what Pope Francis means when he tells us "Go out!" (as he did 16 times in the homily for St Junipero Serra's canonization).

SECOND: Pope Francis gave us an enormous "platform" for pro-life action, at the same time immensely broadening the field of action. He did this especially in his talks to Congress and to the UN General Assembly, knowing that we would listen and understand. He made the human person the fulcrum of every social policy. Even his UN talk, in which (after the usual greetings and acknowledgements) he launched first into the theme of the environment, was really about care for the human person, not as an abstraction, but "real men and women." If anything, this could be considered the central message of his entire US visit, treated in different ways according to the audience. In the UN talk alone, here are the ways he kept bringing attention back to this most important value:
  • "real men and women who live, struggle and suffer..."
  • "these real men and women"
  • "real human beings take precedence over partisan interests"
  • "individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die"
  • "human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists..."
  • "the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic"
The same concreteness was in his talk to Congress ("viewing them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories") and at the September 11 memorial ("they always have a face, a concrete story, names"). I was reminded of the words of St John Paul in his first encyclical, words that struck me back in 1979: "We are not dealing with the 'abstract' man, but the real, 'concrete', 'historical' man.... This man is the way ... the Church must walk" (Redemptor Hominis, 13-14). This coincides with Francis' understanding of mercy as something that is concrete, and best communicated one on one, person to person.

THIRD: In a couple of places, the Pope reminded us that his role as successor of Peter is at the service of unity. He told Congress that he was there as a "bridge-builder" (pontifex). He not only urged people of good will to work together for the common good, he warned against the oppressive imposition of uniformity and the flattening of differences. This was the most explicit in his address to Congress, with its repeated call to "dialogue" and to overcome polarization. In a favorite image, he urged the members of Congress, the US bishops, the faithful of every social class, to "walk together." God is a communion; we are created in that image and likeness, and the whole mission of the Church is to be a communion that draws people into communion with God. When we find ourselves falling into "us" and "them," Pope Francis invites us to make an examination of conscience.

Here in Boston, New England Cable News invited me on Thursday night to comment on the Pope's trip. I used themes from my e-book "Five Keys to Understanding Pope Francis" and found that the keys (I only got to three of them on the air!) are really very helpful for parsing the Pope's message. If you haven't read it, now would be a good time. Then you can read all the Pope's talks (see links below) and notice how those keys in action. And then you can read Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) and do the same thing! (In a way, almost everything the Pope said in the US takes us back to that early document of his.)


More good stuff (the Pope's real words)
Even better: The Vatican's own collection of talks and videos from #PopeinUSA

and...catch up with other things Pope Francis has written!

1 comment:

frances pickard said...

Thank-you, Sister Anne. A beautiful summary from last week. Looking forward to reading the e-book.