The Holy Father’s stay in America may be over, but his impact will be felt for quite some time. His visit provided multiple opportunities for reflection and growth, and his hope was that many would be transformed and inspired by his words. Whether believers, or non-believers, all were amazed by his presence. His humility was unquestionable, exemplified by his constant willingness to ask for prayers (or good wishes) from those he encountered.
As I listened to his speeches, and other addresses (both planned and impromptu) his message was always consistent; we must always strive to bring about hope and the “common good” which was mentioned at least six times in his address to Congress (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 1906 for the definition of the common good). One would expect nothing less from the man who has made social justice his top priority.
Pope Francis met us where we were and called us to carefully discern where we are going in our lives; as a people, as a family, and as a nation. As a surgeon routinely uses a scalpel to perform incisions on the body in efforts to repair damaged organs, Francis operated through the use of delicate words (which still succeeded in penetrating the deepest recesses of souls) in order to help begin healing a fallen, and damaged, world.
Our world is indeed broken, and in drastic need of repair, yet the Pope did not come to condemn our ways, or to warn us of an eventual apocalypse. Rather, he came to get his hands dirty in order to show us (rather than tell us) how to overcome and re-build. He spoke in a voice that was gentle, yet strong, and his words were simple, yet challenging. He captured our attention in an effortless fashion, while simultaneously motivating us to ponder a new reality, which exists beyond the veil of self-righteousness and conceit.
When speaking on matters regarding human life, he upheld its dignity, sanctity, and inherent value throughout all of its many stages. Even if the word “abortion” was not specifically mentioned, there was no misconstruing his words. Likewise, when it came to marriage and the human family, his thoughts were equally well received by an audience eager to bear witness to the truth.
What moved many Catholics (along with many non-Catholics and non-Christians alike) was Pope Francis’ realness. His demeanor was authentic and his ways were consistent. From the infants to the elderly, from the infirmed to the incarcerated, from the mainstream to the marginalized, status and stature did not resonate with him as he viewed all as equals, created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:27, NAB). His actions are motivated by love, and accompanied by sincerity of heart.
During his speech to the United Nations, the Pope called for the establishment of a “culture of care.” This is a first step towards achieving the common good as it creates solidarity by shifting the focus away from one’s self and placing it at the feet of their neighbor, nurtures community rooted in the Golden Rule. This is also a versatile statement, which encompasses other issues such as, the environment, immigration, poverty, and even extends to those imprisoned.
Bringing A Message of Hope
Pope Francis came to America to help lead us towards a new path of discovery. He recognizes the gifts and blessings we have, and he invites us to consider how we can better utilize them. He did not come to badger us or force us to submit to magisterial authority. He came as the Vicar of Christ, a humble servant inviting us to discern a call towards conversion, fostering a sense of hope for the world.
In keeping with this message of hope, Pope Francis referenced the need to respect the free expression of one’s faith and moral conscience:
The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.
In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.
Those rights are under constant scrutiny in today’s secular society, especially when it comes to Christianity. This must end so that believers can provide the necessary fruits by which society may flourish. The Holy Father knows well the value of tolerance towards religious views.
The uniqueness of each human being instills within them the potential to contribute personally in a way that will bring about revitalization. This in turn, will foster a sense of universal pride; not the self-righteous type, but one that recognizes the significance of each inhabitant, and does not view them as a means to an end. Furthermore, the polarization of society will begin to lessen as we work together to attain this shared vision for prosperity. These are just some of the results Pope Francis hopes for in calling our nation to aspire to achieving the common good.
Pope Francis says what the Catholic Church teaches, and he is equal with his predecessors in regards to doctrine (and for good reason as it conveys truth). However, when it comes to living this out, Francis has a style all his own, as evidenced by those who witnessed him in Philadelphia: “He talks not like a pope, but like someone from my town, like a normal person….”
The future of the Church looks bright when viewed from the eyes of this man. He seems to never hesitate to stop, look at you, and see the face of Christ within. He is causing people to look at Catholicism in a new way. The Church is not changing, but people’s attitudes are. This is because Pope Francis is living, out loud, the words, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5 NAB).