The Way of Beauty Recapping the Papal Visit

Last week, Pope Francis held much of the nation riveted on his presence, words and gestures. Millions gladly stood for hours in long lines to see him pass by in his Fiat and pope mobile if only for a few seconds.  Political leaders anticipated his reflections on global concerns.  Children, families, the imprisoned, victims of sex-abuse, and those in consecrated life awaited his encouragement and consolation.  

Cuba, Washington, New York City, and Philadelphia-four different places with four different responses.  Liberals and conservatives interpreted his words as they wished. Though not a theologian by training, Francis used images and gestures in other ways to express a theology of God and a theology of God's People.  The handshake, the embrace and kiss, the blessings offered to the infirm-our young people will interpret them. The crushing schedule seemed to invigorate rather than exhaust him.  It was a lovely week in Northeastern America. 

The Papal Message

Pope Francis conveyed a few underlying themes during his visit. Cuba of course claimed his special attention, and he will pursue the Church's interests there with focused concern. His overall message in this country proclaimed that God is our Creator, and we, his creatures.  Not the other way round. 

He spoke as much to skeptics, agnostics, and atheists as he did to believers.  Perhaps even more so. "If you cannot pray for me," he asked of them in caring tones, "then please wish me well."  Other faiths formed an integral part of his focus captured poignantly at the ecumenical prayer service at Ground Zero.

Pope Francis has enormous respect for the senses.  See Christ, contemplate him in prayer.  Do not speak about Christ; encounter him in prayer.  Listen to God's voice in the silence of your heart.  If there was any doubt about his keen sense of touch, look at the pictures of this tactile person. 

The pope rises at 4:30 a.m. and, before beginning the day's activities, spends a few hours in prayer.  For him, prayer is the power that drives his actions.  We don't see it, but we know it's there. His actions return him to prayer.  This is the delicate balance of prayer for the sake of the apostolate and action for the sake of prayer-the finding of God in all things.

He speaks of listening to others.  It is the art of being present to the other as other.  In the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius wrote of the three levels of being present to others:  attentive respect, reverence, and devotion.  This means recognizing that God is present and at work when we encounter the other. For St. Ignatius Loyola, the resolution of every human encounter should be the discovery of God's presence.

Everyone is called to missionary discipleship.  For most of us, it will not be that quiet companionship of the cloister or monastery but in the city.  It is said that St. Benedict loved the valleys, St. Bernard, the mountain tops, St. Francis of Assisi, the towns, but St. Ignatius preferred the big cities.  For him, God was everywhere but especially in the city-the city of God and the city of man.  All of which leads to mission.

The Mission

Mission is the centerpiece of discipleship. I am impelled to go out and spread his message of mercy and love in whatever way if possible.  People come before programs, and programs exist for the sake of people. Discipleship allows others to make demands on my time, energy, and patience. 

A personal note.  It is true that the corporal works of mercy are essential and prior to all else.  Still, in the long run, the greatest service to the poor is to educate their minds that seek truth.  It is the key to lift the poor out of poverty.  The Cristo Rey Schools best demonstrate this fact. 

The Golden Rule is the yardstick by which we will be measured. In the words of Pope Francis, the time to make the human condition better cannot be delayed.  The time is not tomorrow but now in "the sacrament of the present moment" where God is always at work renewing the face of the earth. 

We are to care not only for one another but also for all creation.  The pontiff's view of the environment is not a trendy cause but is rooted in a biblical theology where God enjoins on everyone to care for the blessings of the earth.


On the plane returning to the Vatican, Pope Francis noted the warmth, receptivity, and piety of the American Church.  He reiterated his concerns for conscientious freedom and religious freedom. Victims of sex abuse and their victimizers shielded by the bishops greatly disturb him, and visibly so.  "It is a terrible thing. God weeps," he summarized.

On a number of occasions and not just on the plane, the pontiff praised women in consecrated life, and it is clear that their popularity in the American Church made an impression on him.  There is widespread agreement that without the sisters and laywomen, the Church would effectively come to a halt. Smiling, he said that "the people of the United States love the sisters." Women rarely receive credit for the work they do in the Church. 

More in The Way of Beauty

Pope Francis further reflected on the plane: Though priesthood for women is "still not a possibility, it is not because women don't have the capacity."    From his dealings with sisters at the Vatican offices, he knows how efficiently they work.  

His thoughts about women in the Church will hopefully translate into appointing religious sisters and laywomen to leadership positions with executive responsibility in every sector of the Church. 

It was a lovely week in Northeastern America.

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