The Holy Father will be arriving in our country this week. Let’s think about how you can help him in his ministry here.
That may sound fanciful, but I’m serious. We heard in last week’s Gospel that Jesus gave Peter a ministry for the service of the church. Pope Francis’s visit is an extension of that work. But he needs us so that he can be more effective: The Gospel went on to invite every one of Jesus’s followers to “take up a cross and follow.” How might we do that in the coming weeks during the pope’s visit? Our work is not to be spectators, but disciples.
I invite you to think about conversation.
This is what I mean. There will be unending media attention to Pope Francis’s visit, so people will be talking about it in various places you’ll be. Rather than simply being a passive participant in chatting, take those moments as opportunities to invite people closer to Christ. Not by preaching or lecturing, but by inviting people to make the same shift the Gospel does: from awareness to action.
For example: Coverage of the Papal Masses will be widespread, and people will no doubt talk about them. Would it be possible to use these conversations as an opportunity to invite a Catholic friend or relative to come to Mass next Sunday with you? After all, you might remind the person (gently), the focus at every Mass is on the presence of Jesus, no matter who presides.
Or when the Holy Father talks about care for the environment: What about taking what he says as an opportunity for a chat (maybe at home over the dinner table) about what your family can do to save energy and to consume less? And about why that’s an important part of being a disciple of Christ?
Or when he mentions the situation of refugees and immigrants: How about encouraging someone to tell you the story of his or her own family’s coming to our country, so that the “us versus them” sort of thinking we can all fall into is reversed, and we build sympathy for people seeking very much what our own family members sought a generation or three ago?
Or when, after speaking to a joint session of the Congress, he doesn’t have lunch with national leaders but rather goes to a tent set up by Catholic Charities to eat with the people they serve: developmentally-disabled, homeless, recently-arrived? What sort of chat might emerge from talking about his choice to eat with the powerless, not the powerful?
In all of these, I’m not encouraging you to try to convince or to persuade anyone. It’s a simple matter of inviting people to “take the next good step” toward Christ. If that means dispelling a false image of what the church is about; or encouragement to dip a toe into returning to Mass, even for just one Sunday; or seeing things from a new perspective – well, to do any of those things it will be important to pay attention to what the Holy Father says and does while he’s here. I don’t mean you have to watch the 24/7 tv coverage – only to stay aware, as many of the people around you will. The Holy Father will be offering the riches of our tradition to people; you already know about those riches; invite others to share them as more than just spectators.
And a final suggestion for yourself: There’ll be people trying to sell trinkets (medals, posters, you name it) to commemorate Pope Francis’s visit. The desire to have something tangible to hold onto to make a memory tangible is very real. What about, if whenever you see such stuff, you think about the challenge to “take home a memory” from Sunday Mass? After all, we believe that Jesus wants to speak a vital word to each of us at Mass; but we can forget, even if we listen. Since Lent we’ve been encouraging you to write down (in one of the notebooks we gave out, or wherever it suits you) what you hear from the Lord at Mass. This is more valuable than any trinket – why not commit to taking a memento home from Mass each week that can continue to nourish your spiritual life?
You get the idea: Don’t leave Pope Francis to do his job alone. Be a part of the team. Until next week, Peace.