Twice in September I stood with a stadium full of people cheering the progression of a little white dot.
The first was a homerun ball, exiting the bat of Met’s captain David Wright at a Statcast speed in excess of 100 mph, which landed 400 feet away in the bullpen, raising both the Citifield apple and the ecstatic crowd to its feet.
The second was a white hat on the head of Pope Francis, moving at a much slower pace through Madison Square Garden, but to even more wild and sustained applause.
We entered the line for Madison Square Garden several blocks away on 23rd Street, at about 12:30 in the afternoon. It was just before 5:00 p.m. that we finally made it through the TSA security check and took our seats for the Papal Mass.
Even fatigued by waiting and frustrated by the inanity of the screening procedures, the atmosphere was electric. Indeed, for the days leading up to and following the Mass, the whole of NYC was a different place. “Are you going to see the Pope?” asked just about everyone I met. “Can you get me tickets?” asked everyone who knows where I work.
People who haven’t set foot in a church in years stood for hours in Central Park for a few second’s glimpse of the papal motorcade, then cried with joy. Families pulled their children out of school to stand on the street and watch him drive by. A friend who was on a plane during the Mass said that every seat she passed was tuned into the live broadcast. “You are a New Yorker!” said Cardinal Dolan bringing a smile to the face of Pope Francis and a standing ovation that lasted several minutes in Madison Square Garden.
But like the Mets, who flying their NLCS brooms into Kansas City, somehow collided with and started channeling the spirit of Bill Buckner, the Francis Fairytale came to a crashing halt.
My Facebook feed was soon filled with angry accusations: “Did you hear about Francis conversing with that Wretched Hated #1 Sinner…” which was, according to your personal views:
- Fidel Castro
- Kim Davis
- Cardinal Timothy Dolan
- Write-In Candidate of Your Choice
And then the S-word really hit the fan.
Waves of hopes and fears that the Synod would usher in a New Era and/or the End Times washed over social media and rocked the barque of Peter.
And so I did what I always do when times get tough, I headed to beach to bury my head in the sand.
I decided to completely ignore it. Instead, I spent the 21 days talking only with God about it, praying to my Heavenly Father for the Holy Father. And I started to read the Pope’s daily homilies.
As I did, I started to see someone very different from the one that the media (secular and Catholic) were holding up.
“This guy has met Christ!” I told my friend Nivi, who sits across from me at work.
“If only people would allow him to make an introduction…” I thought.
“Is Daniel Murphy still your favorite player?” a friend asked after his reverse-Cinderella story cost the Mets Game 4.
“Yes!” I said, because I am nothing if not loyal. And he will be, until he follows the path of all of my publicly proclaimed favorite players [Kevin MacReynolds, John Olerud, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran] to a new city and puts on a new uniform.
Because it’s all about the outfit.
“Isn’t your loyalty a little misplaced?” This time we’re talking about the guy wearing all white.
I know that the conclave didn’t promise or predict canonization. The pope (excluding the rare ex cathedra pronouncement) can make mistakes. Some of things he says (or doesn’t say) make me squirm, sometimes in good way, sometimes in an uncertain way.
But I know the guy he works for. I know that guy promised to always be there, with him, with us, and that the gates of Hell will not prevail against his church. I know some of you are not convinced of that, but that’s okay too.
And I know that, like his boss, Francis is out to invite sinners. He’s one. I’m one. Just because I am not divorced and gay-married and chomping at the bit to hand out Communion in Cracker Jack boxes, doesn’t mean there aren’t things God to wants to change in me. Some radical. Some simple. Some starting with an invitation to an ever deepening encounter.
Because as he said, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
Oh wait, that was Benedict. You can read what Francis said here.
Actually, you can read it pretty much every day, because it’s the theme of his pontificate and pretty much every homily. An invitation. To all the sinners. To you. To me.
“Sometimes the most generous thing you can give someone is the benefit of the doubt” my father used to say.
And this is at the heart of the Pope Francis challenge. No signing on the dotted line that you will agree or adhere to every dot and iota. Just a promise to read, to listen, to let him speak for himself.
The challenge itself is this: for 30 days, spend 5 minutes a day reading the actual writings of Pope Francis. If you are up for the super challenge (no pressure! I realize not all of you can do this): turn off all of the other voices–no spin, no commentaries, no nonsensical memes or predictions from dead saints who can’t defend themselves.
Bonus points for reading prayerfully and with an open mind. By that I mean inviting the Holy Spirit to guide your mind and heart (or starting from whatever place of total honesty you can) to ask yourself, “What is he saying here to me?” “Is this from God?” “How does this fit my life?”
And, because I used to be a teacher and love adding on extra homework, I further challenge you to read it with application ONLY to your own life. For 30 days let the other sinners worry about themselves, and let this be just you, Jesus and Pope Francis. (Or if you are not sure about Jesus yet, let Pope Francis introduce you).
“Miss Grace, how do you know so much?” asked my four-year old student as he meticulously painted glue onto the back of a paper sheep before pasting it next to the Good Shepherd.
Trained to keep it simple, I answered: “College.”
“Oh” he said thoughtfully.
Then, “I am not going to go to college.”
It was my turn to say, “Oh?”
“Because I already know everything,” he explained.
What surprises lie in wait for all of us…!
*Note–The Pope Francis Challenge officially starts on Saturday, November 7th running through December 7th, to end just before the Year of Mercy begins. However, you can begin your 30 days at any time! On our Facebook page we’ll post daily links to some recommended readings (e.g. his daily homilies) but feel free to go directly to Vatican sites such as this one or to read from sections from longer works such as Evangelii Gaudium i.e. a little each day.
Linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum for Quick Takes Friday! Visit her page for other posts!
Featured Image Credits:
“Pope Francis Korea Haemi Castle 19 (cropped)” by Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service (Photographer name). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped).jpg#/media/File:Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped).jpg