Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
Someone told me enthusiastically that Pope Francis made the biggest impact on his life since John XXIII. I have been having similar feelings since this “pope of compassion and mercy” came on the scene. His gifts for penetrating barriers and fostering unity are amazing in this world of labels and distinctions.
We have been needing a Pope Francis for a very long time. Today he stood up in a joint meeting of Congress and delivered. He did not disappoint. Afterwards I received several calls from “disaffected Catholics” who expressed a joy and affirmation. They resonated with his message and felt that they too, were part of us. You see that is what Pope Francis does, whether it is serving food at Catholic Charities in Washington or in a barrio in Paraguay. He brings people together. The National Mall was filled as far as the eye could see. He speaks, he lives, he demonstrates the Joy of the Gospel.
As much as he says, he lives and acts it out. Despite the massive security he reaches out to touch people. Babies are handed to him by Secret Service agents.
He stood up in Congress where President Obama stands to give the State of the Union. Pope Francis gave his “State of the Union.” He did this in perfect English with a charming Argentine accent. How many of us English speaking priests read Spanish as clearly as he reads English? (he practiced this a lot, I am sure). He nailed it.
“We the people of this continent are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants.”
He raises up four icons of what America is: Abraham Lincoln on the 150th anniversary of his assassination, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. These are chosen because “Men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans…They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American People.”
To hear the Pope say “I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery 50 years ago as part of his ‘dream’ of full civil and political rights for African Americans,” while the camera focused on the face of Rep. John Lewis who remembers shedding blood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, makes me proud.
Then he focuses, “in these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God, Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel.”
Hearing the Pope at the most prestigious platform of the nation say words like these energizes us who work for justice and equality and human rights fueled by the Gospel. They affirm that our cause is right.
He also refers to (to date his masterpiece) Laudato Si affirming that business is a noble vocation. I have heard business called many things, but the Pope raises it to a vocation because it can improve the world and create jobs as essential to the service of the common good. He further talks about “our common home” and speaks to all people. “We need a conversation which includes everyone since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”
He further says in Laudato Si “I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’ (61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”
Pope Francis pulls no punches. He knows from the halls of Congress his message will go out to the nation and the world. He planned this for the great conference COP 21 in Paris in December, an international meeting to debate how to fully control climate change.
He spoke of the sacredness of life in all its stages. He urged us to really get a grip on the refugee crisis, the greatest since World War II. When he talks of immigrants he says “See their faces, hear their stories.”
He lives his message every day. He moved on to the Catholic Charities in Washington DC to practice “Compassion in Action” and feed the poor.
Our response? Go and do likewise.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)