A Loving, Far-Off Gaze

Pope Francis has come and gone from the United States, and, in the wake of his visit, my soul is quiet within me.

Time and again, the Holy Father speaks to very great and complex questions with “transparency” and “sincerity” and “without ulterior motives” — characteristics he urges other world leaders to embrace. This purity of heart — his underlying faith in the good will of all those he encounters personally — has endeared him to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Case in point: On Saturday, a non-Catholic friend from college texted me to say, “Tina — Catholic or not, Pope Francis is such a refreshing and inspirational leader for all Christians around the world. My admiration for him has continued to grow these past few days!”

How can any Catholic fail to rejoice at this so-called “Francis Effect”? The Holy Father’s talent for invitation to reconsideration of Catholicism is a gift of the Holy Spirit no less than the theological and catechetical aptitudes of his two, much-loved predecessors.

Last week, as I gazed at the various papal appearances with love from afar, I found myself internally echoing a sentiment expressed by a friend on Facebook: “Normally, I love living in the middle of the country … but this week I wish I was a bit closer to the East Coast!”

If it was energizing to scroll through candid photos of our kind Papa, if it was galvanizing to switch channels from one news broadcast to another to hear the pope’s most salient recent quotes, if it was moving to observe the crowds he drew — mingled throngs of those who’ve consecrated their lives to Christ and those who are still unsure about Him, then I can only imagine how energizing, galvanizing and moving it must have been to have actually experienced Pope Francis’ presence in person!

His precise words? For the most part, like Peggy Noonan, I breathed a sigh of relief that his much-hyped address to the U.S. Congress “was spiritual and not pointedly political.”

Often, as I mentioned earlier, the words Pope Francis chooses are not the words I wish he would choose. Among the many concerns of Mother Church, he occasionally seems to minimize those that press most closely upon my own heart and he frequently spotlights those I’m tempted to relegate to irrelevance.

Little by little, I’ve made peace with this. I’ve even begun to see in the tension I feel toward him a sign that Pope Francis is very much my pope, the pope I need now more than ever.

Because my primary day-to-day relationship is with my husband, it’s impossible for me to forget the complementarity of the sexes or the definition and meaning of marriage as the free, total, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman.

Because a little body is growing within my womb and another little body is growing right before my eyes outside of it, it’s impossible for me to forget the humanity of the unborn or the vulnerability of children who depend upon and deserve a home founded on marriage rightly understood.

Far easier for me to forget the migrant worker, the Syrian refugee or the criminal on death row — all souls as desperately in need of the Good News of Jesus Christ as I am or the Oilman is or Sweet Potato or Mint Julep.

To be sure, that Good News has primarily to do with the wholly unmerited grace of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the Cross and the invitation it poses for repentance from our sins — but it has also to do with an ethos of neighborly love.

At the very least, I ought to pray for those whose material plight is significantly less comfortable than my own, even as I pray that my own material comfort might not undo my recognition of my own need for salvation.

Dr. Gerard M. Nadal eloquently summarizes the challenge Pope Francis poses to those of us who wish he would devote as many words to life, marriage and the family as did Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

Jesus isn’t just being butchered in the womb. He’s dying 760,000 times a year of diarrheal disease (children under age five). Jesus faces the great dilemma tens of thousands of times per week in India of having just enough money to either buy food or firewood. If food, there is no fire to cook it, or boil the water to make it safe.

Jesus lacks basic medical care, shelter, or even a dignified place to die from His poverty and neglect.

Gay marriage is an affront to God, as is abortion and euthanasia, as is Planned Parenthood’s trafficking in fetal human remains-remains often harvested from babies still alive. But the issues Francis will not allow to remain in the shadows are just as pernicious, and even more perilous for the souls of traditionalists.

Moreover, on this trip, Pope Francis did say a considerable bit about life, marriage and the family (enough to anger Planned Parenthood!), and, for those statements, I’m especially grateful.

Regardless of what Pope Francis does or does not say, though, my prayer is to be thoroughly and completely Catholic, lovingly obedient to Holy Mother Church on all matters of faith and morals. At the moment, that means learning a bit more about the relative weight to assign to the various teaching documents of the Church. More on that to come. For now, check out this helpful article.

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