You know you have heard about it.
The stories of the Pope shaking things up. Gingerly paying his own hotel bill, diving deeply into crowds to shake the furthest hand, warmly engaging the stray child in the middle of a Mass, and kissing the infirm, the repellent, the forgotten.
You know you have heard about it.
But it is utterly stunning to see it.
For one week, Joy has been on tour. The United States and every major news outlet has been transfixed by every move of this beaming, tireless Shepherd. And do you want to know something? It has been the most positive news week I have ever seen. Why is that? Because the media has simply fixed their cameras on a holy man exuding joy and mercy at every turn. At. Every. Turn. And they almost don’t know what to do. That is because the irrepressible message of joy and hope, love and mercy has so utterly eclipsed the petty, trite controversies which are the stock-in-trade of the media. When is the last time you saw Mass, Vespers and prayer services in their entirety on CNN, Fox and MSNBC? When is the last time you heard a scintillating man speaking with uncontainable joy about the indispensability of family, inexhaustible mercy and unfathomable love of God for each an every one of us? Joy, I say, has been on tour.
This morning I began eating breakfast with my family at a hotel in Wisconsin where we visiting the extraordinary Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As the television showed Pope Francis driving off in his beloved Fiat (after arriving by plane on the Philadelphia tarmac), my wife and I looked at each other. “He looks tired, doesn’t he?”, my wife said. I nodded and replied, “Just imagine keeping that schedule and energy as a 78 year-old man with sciatica.”
And then he stopped the car.
He waved his arm, the Fiat stopped and he literally bolted out of the car. Seeming almost to run, he found his way to an obscure corner of the gated off crowds, leaned deeply forward and kissed the forehead of a severely disabled boy in a wheelchair. As he blessed him, his mother looked on and wept. You could simply read the words on her lips, “Thank you.” The boy’s sister, a teenager, was taking a picture of the irreplaceable encounter – and she wept. Like years of pent up worry and heartache were released. And as the Pope warmly looked at the boy and his mother, it was as if he knew. He knew. And his eyes seemed to reassure, “Your life and your son’s were forever changed with his disability. But you loved. You loved without end. And God knows it. And He loves you endlessly through your sufferings, your doubt, your worry. You are loved. You are loved.” As he walked back to the car, it was like all his fatigue had vanished. He had seen Christ in the “least of these” and it had given him new strength.
After a day of Mass, Confession and exploration of the Shrine, we arrived home in time to see Pope Francis’ speech at the World Meeting of Families. And it was stunning. It wasn’t simply that it was extemporaneous. It was that it was profoundly genuine. It was about family, love, truth, goodness and beauty, the value of children (the future) and the value of grandparents (the memory of the past). It was honest and it was true. And it was the antithesis to anything that the major news organs have shown in modern memory. It was antithetical, but absolutely irresistible.
It was the antidote.
When will this happen again? When will the world be transfixed by joy? When will the world rally around an elderly man with a hitch in his gait, but a heart larger than any we have seen in modern memory – a heart overflowing with the love of Christ? When will Joy again be on tour?
I don’t know. I don’t know.
But I thank God I was here to see it.
Image Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Papa_Francesco.jpg