Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pope Francis' Visit: Has It Changed You? Answer!

The Beggar Lazarus at the Doorstep of the Rich Man
When Pope Francis returns to Rome, what then? The crowds will dissipate, the headlines about him will decrease, and life will continue.  The question, I think, is "what will be different?" When it comes to Pope Francis, sometimes his media perception is that it is Pope Francis pitted against the rest of the Church. There's a perception among many commentators that the Pope is trying to bend the Church into his vision of how things should be. To the outside spectator, Pope Francis could be like a CEO who is trying to change the corporate culture.

I suppose that for those outside of the Church, there is a need to speak about the Church in a language that makes sense to them. But, I think this kind of language or mindset is deadly for those within the Church. It is always tempting to talk about "the Church" as though it were a separate entity from myself. "Oh, the Church teaches that . . ." or "I think the Church should . . . ." But we are not outside spectators. We're on the inside. We are part of the living Body of Christ. The Pope is not a CEO. He is a shepherd. He is a shepherd who exists within the Church, not outside of it. 

Even though he is the Pope, I imagine that when he climbs into the pulpit, Francis is like the rest of us priests. When we go to preach God's word, we are not thinking about how we can change the whole world, bend the Church to our own liking, and force our will upon others. I think most of us climb into the pulpit and wish to preach the Word of God, humbly acknowledging that it is not "my word" that is preached, but God's Word. We hope that what we preach might touch the hearts of the people in front of us and move them closer to Christ.

People of greater intelligence than I possess will write better commentaries on Pope Francis' apostolic visit to the United States. What I write here is just a personal observation. At the heart of Pope Francis' message in the United States is the dignity of the human person. He looks with profound compassion on those who are left behind, forgotten, and isolated. The Pope wants all of us--politicians, diplomats, governments, bishops, priests, religious, lay men and women--to open our eyes and see the Lazarus who lays upon our door step (Luke 16:19-31). This Lazarus is the immigrant, the prisoner, the unborn, the poor, the elderly, the youth without hope, the unemployed, the lonely, the infirm, and those who lack the basic necessities of life. The Pope wants to put before our eyes those whom we might easily not notice because they lack the visibility that comes from power, wealth, and prestige.

When Pope Francis returns to Rome, if all we find ourselves doing is commenting on what "the Church needs to do," then I think we have lost a great opportunity. The Gospel needs to be planted in my heart and it is my heart that needs transformation. If, when I hear Pope Francis' words, I think only of how others need to change, then the Gospel did not penetrate my heart. The sign that the Holy Father's apostolic visit was fruitful in my life is if my eyes are opened to the beggar at my door and if my heart is opened in generosity to those who were once invisible. 

Who is your Lazarus? Is it the immigrant, the unborn, the elderly, the addicted, the unemployed, the person who has been discarded by others, the homeless . . . ? The Gospel is always personal. It is not vague and general. I think Pope Francis' visit would be most successful if all of us were willing not simply to insist that others see the beggar that we see, but rather were willing to open our eyes and see the beggar that we do not see. In other words, if you see the needs of the immigrant but are blind to the unborn, now is the time to be transformed. If you see the need to defend the unborn but do nothing to help the poor, now is the time to be transformed. If you love the poor, but are blind to the lonely and the elderly, now is the time to be transformed. If we see the needs of the people far away from us but are blind to the person right next to us who is wounded, now is the time to be transformed.

All of us who are Catholic should be ready to bear witness to Christ. If asked what struck us about the Pope's visit, I hope that we will all be able to come up with something more than, "I like that he rode around in a Fiat!" It is too easy and too boring to talk about Pope Francis's apostolic visit in terms of politics, issues, and secular categories. Instead, we should be prepared to witness to how this apostolic visit has changed us. Every encounter with Christ is personal. How has this trip personally changed me? How have my eyes been opened? In what way has my love for Christ and others been deepened? Let's all be ready to answer these questions and be witnesses to the transformative encounter with Christ! When we are able to witness to Christ's power in our life, then we are about the work of evangelization.

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