What a historic week it has been for our Church, for our country. It has been a week of firsts. First time in a good while since a pope has been here. First time that Pope Francis has come to the States. First time a pope has addressed a joint meeting of congress. First time the New York Post has changed its masthead….instead of New York Post, it read New York Pope. First time a saint was canonized on US soil. And it was the first time a Hispanic man or woman from the US was declared a saint. It was the first time for such a huge crowd in Philadelphia. It has been the first of a lot of things.
I watched him carefully. I’ve been thinking about how to summarize all he has said, and God sent one phrase from the pope’s speeches to me. It was early on, in his address to congress. He was talking about promoting what he calls a “culture of care.” It’s a phrase he has used before, in his encyclical. I guess if you are a pope you can quote yourself when speaking. It’s the same culture Jesus advocates for in the Gospel today, when he blesses anyone who should provide even a cup of water to another. I want us to consider this morning four things the pope repeatedly emphasized that we should care a great deal about as Catholics. We’ll use CARE as an acronym. C=Church. A=Afflicted. R=Relatives. E=Environment.
Church. While speaking in both St. Patrick’s in NYC and SS Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, Pope Francis marveled at the beautiful structures of the churches. There is no doubt, he said, that we’ve built some nice churches. But they are symbols, he said, symbols of all that we do and are as church. He praised the religious and priests for all their work, especially in the realm of Catholic education. We are fortunate to have so many wonderful, beautiful Catholic schools here in ArchyIndy, and the best of them all right here. Pope Francis spoke about how we are a part of a most beautiful church. It is not a business, or just some organization, or some institution. It is the living, breathing body of Christ. Pope Francis loves his church. Pope Francis canonized a saint, St. Junipero Serra. This is a man who, out of his love for his church, sought to spread it. He left his comfortable life in Spain to build missions in California, which brought a great deal of blessings to the Native Americans. In the East, the early settlers pushed the Indians away and treated them like animals, even killing them. Junipero Serra treated the Indians in the West like children of God. He cared for them, and invited them—they were not forced—to enter these missions. Most did, and they found life there, and protection. And they found Christ there. Junipero Serra is a man who understood church as something that is on the move, hence his life’s motto: Siemper Adelante. Always moving forward. That is the pope’s vision of church.
Pope Francis also spoke about how we must love the afflicted. He spoke especially about immigrants and how we are called to love and respect them. As Francis said, we were all immigrants once, and Christ was the ultimate immigrant. We have a good many immigrants at this parish, and we are a richer parish for it. We must care for them, which starts by knowing their names, their stories. He said to a group of immigrant Catholic school kids, “you have a right to dream.” The Hispanic ministry is one of my favorite things I do here. But Pope Francis also spoke about other types of afflicted people, like the homeless, the elderly, the sick, those on death row. We are called to care for these people in a special way. Which means loving them. Do you see how naturally it comes for Pope Francis? Instead of the lavish meal prepared for him with the politicians, he said, “Nope, gotta go. I’m eating dinner with the homeless.” Would that care for the afflicted were as easy for us. It can be.
Another central theme to Pope Francis during these days has been the family; after all, the trip has been called “The World Meeting of Families.” He still has more addresses to give on this topic, but he said at congress, “I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.” He spoke about the sanctity of all life, from conception to natural death. He also visited the Little Sisters of the Poor, a visit that was meant to offer them support….they have been on the front lines of the contraceptive mandate controversy. The bottom line is: family is important. It matters, and, as he said, it is the greatest thing God has ever made. He even went so far as to say, “the family is the factory of hope.”
Lastly, an important message of Pope Francis lately has been care for God’s creation, the environment. We cannot dismiss his message or shrug it off. The importance of creation is written about even on the first pages of the bible. He said there are two big reasons for this. The first is that we humans are a part of the environment, and therefore “any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity.” The other reason is that “every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures.” The bottom line: we must love our earth and treat it well. Because, as God says, it is very good. We have to keep it that way.
The pope has spoken a lot. Perhaps you saw a cartoon that illustrates this difficulty well. The cartoon shows the pope, a donkey and an elephant. The donkey of the Democrat party announces, “He’s with me on climate change!” Then the Republican elephant responds, “He’s with me on life!” Then there’s Jesus on the side, saying, “Excuse me, but I’m pretty sure he’s with me.” The bottom line for us is, we have to be with the pope. Because to be with the pope, especially this pope, is to be with the Lord. Let’s think and pray about one way we can care more for and about our church, one way we can care more for the afflicted, one way we can care more about our families, and one way we can care more about the environment.