I think Archbishop Kurtz summed it up well by saying that being in Philadelphia with Pope Francis this week was like being on retreat, like hearing again that “original call” from Christ. And while the Holy Father’s words were incredibly meaningful, there was something else that struck me powerfully.
Nothing in the course of history has been as impactful as language: on a person, on a community, on a culture. It has been our connector throughout time. God himself became WORD, knowing the resonance he would have in our hearts for generations. Writing is art and a space for community. It is a unique medium, inviting us to grow in our maturity, understanding, and humanity: touching our minds, hearts and experience in an integrated way. It can connect culture and life with truth, dialogue and our shared, but deeply personal human experience.
But in our culture, language is broken. We are saturated with information, not wisdom. We have no common lexicon. What ‘love’ means to me is not the same to those who would hi-jack the term. What ‘freedom’ has always meant has been bent to serve a less noble purpose. And ‘family’ is no longer a clearly defined concept. Language has not only been distorted by agendas but cheapened and commercialized for profit.
We are living in a new age of Babel, where dialogue fails because we can’t understand each other. So we need to communicate, and to listen, with more than our voices and our ears, because truth is not bound by language, and neither is God… if we listen.
It’s through what Francis didn’t say that he taught us to listen. In a loud, noisy, polarized culture, there isn’t a lot of listening going on. Fears and frustrations, expectations and agendas scream at each other… in politics, social media, relationships, and even in the Church. This swirling vortex watched Francis and was determined to draw him in, to applaud or condemn him for his part in the American drama while in our land. But ‘Hurricane Francis’ in many ways, was the ‘still silent sound’ (1 Kings 19:12) that confounded those who expected him to use the language of fire and brimstone. He spoke truth in to power in unexpected ways instead of in thunderous rebukes. He spoke of Truth, of Goodness, of Beauty, the face of God Himself, so that nothing less is adequate. Nothing less is worthy. Nothing less could satisfy. It’s going to take me weeks to pour over his words and reflect on the lessons God has for me in them.
But more than what Francis said is what he didn’t say. What he didn’t say teaches us to hear if we have ears. To truly listen to a message that biased media and our own preconceptions and expectations can’t distort. To be surprised by God. To listen to the powerful unspoken message of a father, showing us the warm embrace of The Father, come to be close to the fatherless in a land where 40 percent of children grow up without a full time dad. Proximity speaks volumes in a cold and distant culture with fragmented families. He is here because he loves. Because God loves us this way.
The visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor after his address to the most powerful legislative body in the world. Meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk jailed for being obedient to a Christian conscience. Eating with the homeless instead of with congress. Visiting a prison where many of us would fear to go.
Stopping, so many times, to embrace the smallest among us, the weakest among us, the broken among us. Without words speaking volumes to us about how God loves us in our smallness, our weakness, our spiritual destitution, in spite of the ways we offend Him daily. How we must love each other. Encouraging us to be strong in our consciences, our convictions, to ‘be not afraid’. Just Listen. His message was clear and resonant.
The stamina needed for six days in two countries, the attention of the world on him, guarded by secret service, speaking to the most intense and powerful leaders in the world (several times in a language he learned just to be able to communicate to us) with sciatica pain, short nights and long days. At the age of 78. And yet with an indefatigable smile that spoke sincerity and gentleness, and an exuberant joy that rose to the surface like a fountain at times, like when he spoke off the cuff late Saturday night at the Festival of Families.
10 pm. Many people had already left as it got dark, assuming he would not take the podium. I am usually in bed by then. But that night, his voice, his words, his joy, reminded me of Mary, exhausted after her journey, but brought to life by the stirring of God within her, such that his ‘soul proclaimed the goodness of the Lord, and his spirit rejoiced in God our savior.’ So and stayed – and heard him speak.
His words that night were the most beautiful I have ever heard him speak, but it was the witness of this Father, late at night, with his children around him, joyfully loving and exhorting us to be lovers of the true, good and beautiful, because God is true good and beautiful, that left me in tears.
Listen, to the clear message of our true identity as a family, the family of which he is father, that he spoke by drawing together 900 000 men, women, children, priests, nuns, consecrated people for a moment of joy. A family celebration.
Listen to his gentleness, his smile. His genuine presence among us. No cell phone, no selfies. He was there in the moment, perhaps more than any of us were. We had his undivided attention.
He pointed to the best in us as an American people while he addressed congress, asking us to rise to what we are created to be, instead of condemning us as being the sum of our mistakes as he justly could have. Like a father.
The Acts of the Apostles says that “Where Peter’s shadow fell, there was healing” (Acts 5:15-16). America is in the shadow of Peter, and I pray, not with a furtive hope, but with a peaceful confidence, that this country will never be the same. I know I won’t be.
There are moments in history and in our personal histories where God withholds answers, clarity, or reveals them bit by bit. We can feel a bit stuck or like we are stumbling in the dark. For me, the World Meeting of Families and Visit of the Holy Father was like walking the road to Emmaus. It was like a cloudy night broke to show the constellations I could confidently chart my map by. I hope for this country the clouds of politics, fears, consumerism and utilitarianism also broke, and that for the 900 000 there, and everyone else who had ears to listen; we can truly “Go forth and proclaim the Gospel.”
Francis said it in words, but shouted it with his presence, “Love is celebration. Love is joy. Love is moving forward.” I am determined to move forward with him and invite along everyone I meet…. Coming?