At the risk of beating a sensitive drum, I have to acknowledge an enormous occasion that is happening around me. I would feel foolish if I didn’t write about this religious, spiritual, and ceremonial event after focusing on those same topics recently.
I’ve been watching with distant interest over the past year as authorities have made informative announcements in preparation. The event is so big, regular business in Philadelphia is coming to a temporary halt. Walking on American blacktop for the first time three days ago, Pope Francis, the holiest of all Catholic mortals, landed back on earth in Washington, D.C. after a flight from Cuba. His visit is stirring emotions that run from sheer joy to raging frustration. I think it’s all a matter of perspective and is a perfect example of how perception can build up or tear down one’s spirit.
For the most part, there are two common opinions around here when it comes to his visit: 1.) This is a life-changing opportunity to bring peace to one’s soul; or 2.) This whole thing is a total pain in the ass.
First, let’s start with the reasons for pain.
• There is a disgusting amount of hype in the media, similar to the marketer’s exploitation of the Christmas holiday. Many now wish the whole thing was over.
• For the past year, popular television news has been giving updates about the challenge of the Pope’s visit, including major road closures, transportation restrictions, and the towing of residents’ cars from the security zone. We’ve heard about requests sent to businesses, asking them to stay open while Catholics hoped Planned Parenthood would close. Tens of thousands of special transit passes were issued by an online lottery in moments, only to be found for resale online by scalpers at ten times the original cost. Controversy. Controversy. Controversy. The words and phrases plucked from the headlines read:
“No Option for Failure”
• Not all of us are Catholic. Many have either never been or no longer practice. For all of its history, the church has divided the world into two parts—Catholic and non-Catholic—while the melting pot of America begs for tolerance, acceptance, and respect for each other no matter what our affiliations. The scale of the event reminds those who are not part of the club that they are outcasts.
• Church rules seem hypocritical in the standards for what constitutes a family, etc. Doubt surrounds the church’s intentions when its walls are painted in gold while its followers are asked to sacrifice in Christ’s name. Even the kindest among its followers tend to question their ability to maintain a seemingly unreasonable doctrine.
• Scandal haunts the Catholic church. There has been wrongdoing so heinous its victims will never recover. It takes resolve to look at a priest without wondering if he might have had any part in breaking the spirit of a young, innocent, male child.
At a party last month, I asked some good friends what they thought was the REAL reason for the Pope’s visit. The common theme among them was, in summary, an attempt to increase the membership and financial wellbeing of the Catholic Church. “They’ve lost a lot of followers,” one person pointed out. I couldn’t argue with that.
Here are reasons for the peace
Determined to obtain the perspective of a devout Catholic, I turned to the closest source I could think of: the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Posted clearly on its Website was the number one reason why the Pope was coming: families. He is here for the World Meeting of Families, an occasion that asks all Catholics to come together, in person or remotely, and pray “to strengthen the sacred bonds of family across the globe and highlight its intrinsic value to the good of society.” The Archdiocese headlines read:
“Eventful Day of Song”
My mind drifted to my experience at a part-time job I hold at a small local library, one that serves a middle class community. I see firsthand the effect of families in my short exchanges with library patrons of all ages.
A child wanders in with a half-hearted parent who gives priority to her phone. The child is anxious, loud, disinterested, and angry.
A child comes in holding hands with a parent who is attentive and present and calm. The child is respectful, curious, and happy.
A mentally challenged adult comes in to read with the compassionate and attentive caregiver assigned to him that day. He remains distant, seemingly sad, as if he wants to be happy but he cannot connect.
A mentally challenged adult comes in with her caring grandmother. She is smiling. She greets us a little too loudly, “Hello ladies,” and spells out reasons to love the day.
The difference between the two is always family.
There are the thoughtful daughters who come to help their elderly mothers carry stacks of books, wise fathers who guide their young sons toward topics of interest, and the sturdy moms who teach their rambunctious toddlers how to be still. This is family on display; imagine their impact in the quiet hours before sleep or the tense moments during a storm. The Pope is here to celebrate that.
His visit comes with an additional, spiritual gift that to a follower is precious. To my knowledge, America’s mass media has never mentioned it. It’s not granted lightly. It’s called the Gift of Indulgences. No, it doesn’t mean everyone can eat, drink, and indulge in as much merriment as they’d like at this Meeting. Instead, it means they will be freed from the usual punishment for their sins, as long as certain conditions are met. The conditions require a commitment to the Catholic sacraments as well as the Catholic intention of building strong families. It essentially washes a follower’s purgatorial slate so that he or she can move toward peacefully living a family-focused life.
As long as we continue to look with scorn, we will continue to find doubt, hatred, fear, and anger. And if we continue to look with scorn, what becomes of the good of the church? When do we, people of all beliefs dip into our spiritual treasure chest and offer a Gift of Indulgences, one that includes enough acceptance that we may see the positive aspects of the Pope’s visit and how it can be beneficial to us all, even if we cannot commit to the Catholic way?
I’m not suggesting we drop to our knees and give in. I am asking that we take this opportunity to intensify the positive vibes of this massive ceremony. Can we not recognize that our DNA eternally connects us to our ancestors, descendants, and siblings? Can we not remember that love attracted us to our spouses or our adopted children? Can we not try to forgive those estranged, honor those respected, and thank those appreciated? Shouldn’t we, together, in unity, uproot our hardships and sufferings and let our families help us get through the nightmares, headaches, and failures?
The arrival of Pope Francis and the ceremony surrounding him has put us on a roller coaster ride, from anticipation to dread, excitement to frustration, and peacefulness to concern. At the end of the day, let him lead our perspectives past temptation and into a stronger connection to that which has delivered every single one of us onto this earth: our families.