The Pope is winging his way to Cuba as I type. After a quick visit with the long-suffering Catholics under Castro’s island rule, he’ll be making his way to American soil: New York to speak before the UN, Washington DC for a joint session of Congress (and a fete with a truly farcical guest list assembled by our embarrassment of a POTUS at the White House), and then finally to Philly where he’ll wrap up the week-long World Meeting of Families by greeting a million or so pilgrims in the city of brotherly love.
Then it’s back to Rome for the long-anticipated Synod on Marriage and the Family, an historic meeting of bishops and lay experts from around the globe on the pressing needs and issues the Church is facing in the modern world.
Is there any question what those needs might be? In a global culture that is increasingly embracing wildly deviant interpretations of “family” and “marriage” and jettisoning the basic blueprints for the foundation of a stable society, the men in black (and the women who sit – historically – among the advisory panels and councils) have much to discuss.
But is it too little too late?
Certainly there are many who seem to think so.
Conservative hand-wringing over Pope Francis the “liberal” (nicely played, CNN, your version of the Pope is the only one many Catholics seem to recognize); progressive jubilation over “change at last!” in a laughable misunderstanding of ancient and authentic Catholic social teaching, and the list goes on and on.
But you know what?
The media doesn’t write the story of salvation history.
And be this a dark time in the history of Christianity, or the dawn of a powerful New Evangelization, the talking heads and sound bites circulating on social media do not have the last word on what Christ and His Church have to say to humanity.
Look around at our culture. Look at the families you know, at your own family, at those who are living out the divine plan for marriage and children in a culture that spits in their faces and laughs. And ask yourself this: where do you see joy?
There is joy in living authentically the plan God has for our lives.
There is joy – even amidst financial and physical and spiritual and emotional hardship – in taking up one’s Cross.
And there is joy, such joy, when those crosses come swaddled in (expensive!) diapers.
When the cross takes the shape of fidelity to a suffering spouse or care for an aging parent.
When the cross demands self denial.
Doesn’t it always?
So even though our culture might be telling us loudly and repeatedly and frantically that there is nothing to be found in a life lived for others, that real happiness lies in consuming and getting what’s ours and pursuing self fulfillment at all costs…the culture is wrong.
And we are called to live in this world and be creators and architects of culture, without letting the world shape us.
It’s a high calling, and honestly, it’s seems almost impossible when there’s wifi available everywhere and Netflix is always streaming and happiness is just a Starbucks away.
I will be the first to admit there is nothing I like more than seeking my own self interests first and foremost. Especially circa 6 am.
But there’s no real joy there. (And I’m not talking here about necessary self care and recreation, but about the escapism-style of entertainment and consumption that we’re all so frantically encouraged to pursue by the media, but advertisers and merchants, by social media and the un-winnable game of comparison and keeping up. It’s bullshit. And we all know it, but we’re all still tempted to play along.)
I think that’s what this moment is about, for American Catholics and Catholics the world over. It’s a powerful opportunity to look to our Holy Father who has come to us, a pilgrim who hardly speaks our language and who has lived and served in a culture vastly different from our own, and who has a message of joy, of mercy, and of simple solidarity.
When history writes the story of Pope Francis’ pontificate, I think it will look a little different from the prevailing media narrative of the moment.
He won’t be remembered as the Pope of Rolling Stone, as the global warming guy who asks jovially “who am I to judge?” (conveniently leaving off the first 2 lines of that quote, always.)
I think when the years have passed and the dust has settled, his real message will become increasingly clear. And it’s an old message:
There is Good News. It’s a Person. His name is Jesus. He came for every one of us, and He has a place at the table for each of us. Open your hearts – “open wide, in the words of another Holy Father, the doors to Christ.”
So hey, let’s pray for the World Meeting of Families. For the Pope’s time in Cuba and the US. And for the Synod in Rome next month.
I’ll be heading to Philadelphia next week and I’ll be blogging about it all, so stay tuned. And over the next several days I have some great guest contributors lined up to share their own joyful, painful, honest stories of marriage and family life. (And uh, speaking of family life, if you could pray for good behavior for grandma and also for a smooth, wine-filled flight with a sleeping newborn, that’d be great. Wink.)