You've probably heard a lot of late about various angles of what we'll be seeing unfold these next couple days: the political, the visual, the coverage, costs, quotes, croziers, controversies, etc.
But the spiritual? What all this means, or should mean, to you and me in the pew, and beyond?
Er... not so much.
To remedy that, for this Sunday -- "Shepherd Sunday," Bicentennial Sunday, Visit Eve -- our reflection comes from Fr Milt Jordan, now (blogging) pastor of Our Lady of Victory in Northwest Washington, once a humble laborer in the direct service of the Holy See and its mission.
This Sunday, the most unusual week in American Catholicism has seen in several decades begins: Pope Benedict will come on his own journey of faith to strengthen his American sisters and brothers on their spiritual journeys.Amen...
Remember: he is coming not as Joseph Ratzinger, ordained priest and bishop in the Catholic Church. He is coming as Peter! He is coming as the Vicar of Christ at this time in our lives. His visit is not six days of holidays -- not at all. His journey, his visit, to us is genuine "sacred time." His presence among us — albeit only on the East Coast and in two specific cities — is his desire to help us strengthen our own spiritual lives. Today, in our own time, Peter comes to speak to our hearts. Every moment that Pope Benedict XVI is among us, he gives us his personal invitation to join him in deepening and strengthening the faith that we share together as sons and daughters of a loving God.
Linked to this thought is a reflection that is foremost in my mind: why has the Holy Spirit inspired the Holy Father to journey to America precisely at this time? What matters for all of us is that we recognize that he comes among us as the personal representative of Jesus Christ — and not just to those who received tickets to attend one of the public ceremonies. I challenge you to consider this thought seriously: this man comes bringing the thoughts that the Holy Spirit has planted in his mind during his personal prayer which he will be sharing with us. Think on this: he brings to each of us the good news, perhaps truly challenging news, whether we try to adopt the conservative or liberal Catholic description for ourselves. He comes as messenger of the Holy Spirit with only one agenda: to draw us ever closer to our God and our Church!
I invite you to draw from his visit, he words, his actions an abundance of hope. Surely our Church has gone through painful years of late ... and most likely will continue on that journey for some time. Pope Benedict is well aware of this reality. He is not a man with a steel heart. He is trying to share as much as is possible the pain of American Catholics today. Most likely he will address the painful issue of child abuse, the war in Iraq, the role of Catholic universities and colleges, the poor, abortion, the role of our bishops, etc. Surely he will confront the hot button topics of our times. Of course he will afford the political pundits a break from their incessant efforts to determine an election. However, what is critically important for us is to hear the message that is at the root of his words.
At the same time, however, he does not let unfortunate events or a seemingly lessened love of the Church by some take away his hope. Why? Because his hope is in Jesus Christ, in what God’s Son taught all of us... not just the man who would be chosen to succeed St. Peter and his successors. Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict, is a man who is making this visit his effort "to reach out spiritually" to each and every American Catholic whether gathered in New York City or Washington, DC. This man who was charged with the protection of the faith in a former office, now is called to be the man who touches our hearts with his wisdom and love, who assists us in opening our hearts to the message Jesus puts before us in Scripture every day. His intention is "to bring you his (Jesus’) word of life." He does not come to shackle. He does not come to suppress. He comes to open our hearts to the freedom that walking with Jesus Christ can effect in our lives -- "Christ Our Hope" is the theme the Holy Father has marked out for his visit.
I often think of this Holy Father as a type of "grandfather." In my life, I only knew one of my grandfathers. But for me and my siblings when "Nanny and Grandpa" came to visit us each Sunday, after they (Methodists) had been to Bible School and Church, it was not unusual for Grandpa to speak to us about how much God loved us, how much he gave to us and what we had to do to come to know God intimately. This is one aspect I personally feel is about to happen to me during the papal visit and the words I will hear.
My heart and mind are truly moved on your behalf. My prayer for you is to see beyond the excitement. Follow as much of the Pope's visit in the media as you can. But what's more, let his words sink into your very being. See beyond the "analysis" that broadcasters will inevitably offer us. See beyond the moments of protest that will happen to a holy man’s efforts to draw me and you so much closer to Jesus, our Lord, our Brother. Let him fill your hearts with hope.
This is the very core of the days ahead. Let the excitement that is so natural with an event such as this be the instrument that opens up our hearts and minds... indeed our very souls... to the movements of the Holy Spirit given us in the words of Pope Benedict XVI.
Friends, we are embarking upon "sacred days." Remember that throughout these days, and the papal visit will indeed be a help to you and me on our faith journey, because Jesus Christ in the person of his Vicar has come to us, has invited us to strengthen our faith!
...and now, off to the tailgate.