The best part of the papal visit for me wasn’t the pope himself, but all the people he drew together in his wake. I’m at First Things today, talking about how to keep making connections to all the people who filled the streets, now that we can’t rely on one big event to introduce us to each other.
The papal visit drew people out, and made it easy to disclose our faith to each other. It felt like a much more joyful and communal version of the annual Catholic Census that happens on every Ash Wednesday.
I might notice the smudges on my coworkers’ foreheads but I don’t start conversations. The somber, sin-focused nature of the day makes it hard to imagine introducing myself and asking someone to coffee or to pray for me. It just means that, for a day, the Catholic-heavy demographics of my city become visible to me.
Now that the visit has come to an end, I want to do more with the people who surround me. I want to find a way to live up to what Pope Francis said in his canonization Mass for Saint Junipero Serra, when he spoke of the way that we are all called to extend Serra’s missionary work, and the dangers of refusing our calling.The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into élites, clinging to their own security. They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.
Self-enclosure generates and is generated by apathy. I wind up enclosed when I make myself invisible to other Catholics and let them remain invisible to me. I see other people as Catholics at Mass, or at talks at local Catholic bookstores, but, once we leave those special, scheduled places, our religion tends to become private again.