Sunday, September 27, 2015

Gratitude and Mercy Part 2

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I have been inspired to blog about the Holy Father's US visit this week. It has been exciting to be Catholic this week! And even, dare I say, socially acceptable! My Catholicity tends to be the subject of social encounters more often than probably most, due to occupational hazard. My first introductions with people usually go something like this:

Person I meet for the first time: "What do you do?"
Me: "I'm a teacher!"
Person I meet for the first time: "What do you teach?"
Me: "Religion."
Person I meet for the first time: (Usually awkward pause ) "Oh...interesting!"

These interactions were even more interesting when I responded: "youth minister" as a twenty-something out on the town as you might imagine. Nothing kills the potential "meet cute" like an introduction that inserts the Church at the forefront of a dude's mind. Some people may disagree with me on this. You might think that it is a beautiful gesture to introduce Christ at first meet or  even a great method of evangelization. I have studied evangelization, folks, and the numbers don't lie. I've seen more young men divert their attention elsewhere faster than if Kate Upton were to enter the room at that very moment. 

That's why I found it so refreshing to see not just my Catholic friends saying kind things about the Catholic Church on Facebook for once. Even if it was just a funny picture of the Pope on a pizza or a Stephen Colbert singing about being a friend of Francis, the good news of the Church infiltrated our culture for one week. 

I mean, how can you not respond with joy when you see something as glorious as this. Two of my favorite things: the Pope and Pizza!

Francis has a way of making everyone feel included but challenged. And THAT is what role of the Vicar of Christ is about. Because that is what Christ was about! And ultimately, that is what our Church is about! But we have made our Church something about exclusion instead of inclusion and that is what I think Francis is really getting us to see.

I was amazed that Francis had so many specific messages for all of his many appearances and gatherings, and every time he killed it! Congress and the White House: The Golden Rule. Care for our environment. Care for the poor. Care for life in all its forms. NYC: Preach the Gospel to all people. Go out and spread the Gospel. Do not be afraid. 

These are not new messages. And everyone hears their own version of these messages, too. What I heard may not be what you did, because we bring our own biases and experiences to any message we encounter (Some media literacy learning coming at ya!!!). But the way he says these traditional messages with compassion is what makes everyone feel like he is speaking to them. He has made us feel included, loved...which is what we are all thirsting for so much.

I watched way more of the coverage from my couch than I had originally intended. I found myself drawn to watch more. Of course, I was initially jealous that I was not there at my alma mater or in a city that I had just moved from months before to experience all this in person. But the beauty of Francis, once again, is his ability to make you feel included and loved even from far away. 

My dear friends sent me these pictures via text to make me feel like I was there with them! XOXO!

I watched as the Pope touched down on Tuesday in DC. I watched him meet Obama at Andrews Air Force Base in the wind with a smile. On Wednesday, I made my students in Study Hall watch Francis and Obama speak in front of the White House. On Thursday, I eagerly awaited a transcript of his address to Congress so that I could read what I had missed while teaching that day. And that night, I watched him enter St. Patrick's Cathedral in NYC and I dusted off my brievery to pray Vespers for the first time in a long time with him and 20,000 other people. 

But this AM when I found myself drawn again to watch him address clergy in Philly, I felt some scales fall from my eyes.

I have known about the World Meeting Families since fall of last year when the diocese I was working in asked department chairs to meet and look at ways to incorporate a special curriculum for the event. I certainly wanted to do so, but I also kind of rolled my eyes as this just one more hoop I was having to jump through for the diocese. Let me explain. 

I have come to think that when we talk about "family" that this means one of a very small list of things: We are either talking about being anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-birth control or anti-cohabitation. All things that we are "anti" nothing that we are for. 

For this reason, I was not personally psyched about this World Meeting of Families. I thought it was going to be another rally about something we are "anti." And honestly, because I myself am not married and have no children, I have never felt like these discussions of "family" include me. But when I heard the Holy Father speak to the Bishops this AM, he once again compassionately spoke and it made me think like he was speaking to me. 

There is a lot of hurt surrounding the issue family. There are the reasons I have listed previously and as I mentioned, a lot of my own experiences with people who are "pro family" have been exclusive. I don't have 7+ children and that is not necessarily what the Lord has called me to. Where do I fit with this limited, traditional box that we have made "family", then? What Pope Francis said this AM reminded me as he has done time and time again that our faith and concept of family are so much more than what we have limited them to be. 

He expanded and broadened this box of what the threats to family have become. It's more than just the things we hear about all the time. He mentioned that issues affecting the family are things like our consumerism, our devotion to social media, our individualized and isolated society. Essentially, just like there are many, many more "pro life" issues than just being "anti-abortion", there are many, many more issues affecting the family.

I can't tell you how it refreshing it felt to be "included" in this way. These are issues that I can relate to. This expanded my way of looking at "family issues" and this is why, once again, our Pope is so special. He makes all of us feel loved and included and that essentially is at the heart of family, isn't it?

This doesn't mean that we should not be challenged or questioned when we are discussing matters of family, but the root of our message should always be love...not exclusivity. I am blessed to be a part of the family that is the Catholic Church. A family that has a Holy Father that wants to include as many children as possible...just like Christ.


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