Two of the most highly contagious things in the world are 1) a smile, and 2) a yawn. Depending on where you go, you’ll find both of them in our churches. One thing about Pope Francis is that he is always smiling. More than his provocative wisdom, what really keeps people engaged is his contagious joy, and its been spreading plenty of smiles in our country this week.
A while back he even wrote an important letter (called an encyclical) “The Joy of the Gospel,” which is exerting a major influence on the way parishes and dioceses are approaching evangelization, liturgy, missions, and even church management.
In this way, Pope Francis is really challenging church leaders to get out of the “club” mentality and let the church be a movement. It explains why it’s sometimes hard to keep up with him! He’s always on the move. I’m awed and frankly a bit jealous of the energy that animates the 78 year-old Pope. Only joy could fuel that kind of witness and lifestyle.
The major events on his fast-paced trip to America are highly symbolic as well, and will be a source of rich reflection for a long time to come. If I may make few early observations of my own about what this might mean for us as the church, even if said event hasn’t happened just yet:
Canonization of St. Junipero Serra: The Church is always on mission, its called evangelization. In the Pope’s own words from his homily: “[Junipero Serra] was the embodiment of ‘a Church which goes forth’, a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God.”
Surprise Visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor Community: We can’t call ourselves the Church unless we are willing to place ministry and outreach to the poor, sick, or elderly as one of our greatest priorities.
Addresses to Congress and the United Nations: We should strive to be one Church with one message, and not give into political ideologies that tear us apart, often in parishes.
Visit to Ground Zero: As the Body of Christ we must stand with those who mourn and acknowledge the reality of sin and suffering in the World.
Participation in the World Meeting of Families: We can’t rebuild the Church without going out of our way to welcome children and families into our communities and helping to strengthen family life.
A year or so ago I ran across a line somewhere that read, “If You Like Pope Francis, You’ll Love Jesus.” Well, the nation is certainly getting the chance to see Pope Francis up close and personal. The question now is, when they come to your church, will they find a Jesus they will fall in love with?