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.
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"
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)
- The Pope's informal chat with the reporters on the plane back to Rome
- Final remarks
- Homily Sunday evening in Philadelphia
- Sunday morning gathering with inmates of correctional centers and their families
- Sunday morning talk to the US Bishops (and spontaneous comments on meeting victims of sex abuse)
- Saturday evening Festival of Families prepared talk (not delivered) and spontaneous talk he actually gave
- Saturday afternoon on Independence Mall
- Saturday homily in the Philadelphia Cathedral
- Friday evening homily in Madison Square Garden
- Friday service at the September 11 Memorial
- Friday address to the UN General Assembly
- Friday address to the UN staffers and employees (cooks, cleaners, maintenance)
- Thursday talk in St. Patrick's Cathedral
- Thursday visit to St Patrick's church in Washington
- Thursday address to US Congress
- Wednesday homily at Canonization of Junipero Serra
- Wednesday talk to US Bishops
- Wednesday greetings at White House
and...catch up with other things Pope Francis has written!