Members of Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas, participate in a virtual town hall meeting with Pope Francis connected via satellite link from the Vatican Aug. 31.
Don't waste time in judgment, but in service, mercy
Rev. John Roche, SDB
I don't know about you, but I found myself tearing up very often when viewing the visit of Pope Francis in October. In fact, I could barely make it through an episode of "20/20" which featured a teleconference between Pope Francis and three gatherings of people from all walks of life gathered in Chicago, McAllen, Texas, and Los Angeles.
This brief little special preparing for the coming visit of the Pope a few weeks later was deeply touching and filled with hope. To a young girl born with a disfiguring skin disease, the Holy Father invited her to sing for him and he told her to be courageous and to use her gifts for others. He also told her to surround herself with the love of family and friends to support her. He indicated that this was how God would show his love and support for her.
To a single mother who could finally afford to move her two daughters into a small apartment after living from one homeless shelter to another, he nearly leaped out of his chair praising the mother for deciding to give life to those two precious daughters, and he did not mince his words. He told her he was proud of her because she could have chosen to murder those children and he assured her that God was elated with her choice and would support her in her role as mother.
To a young homeless man in Los Angeles and to a young undocumented man who had been denied a college scholarship in Texas, he rang out messages of hope. Pope Francis acknowledged the struggles they faced and, once again, told them both to surround themselves with caring and supportive family and friends.
The two young men gave him the opportunity to state clearly that all people should be welcomed and cared for and that this should be the highest priority in the lives and agenda of all people.
And finally, he called out a Religious woman seated in the crowd in McAllen. He thanked Sister Norma for the great work she was doing for the people fleeing across the border and he praised the work of the Women Religious of the United States adding, "Is it appropriate for me to say to [all of] you, 'I love you very much?'"
I am quite surprised that I have actually heard some people complain the pope was not strong enough. They have concluded that he came with a weak message and robbed the Gospel of its power to transform. He settled for "nice" over challenging and provocative. Such opinions lament that there was an absence of excoriating abortion or contraception or gay marriage. They are left unsatisfied that their Holy Father did not ride in on a horse with an avenging sword of righteousness. And quite frankly, such conclusions leave me utterly dismayed!
I suppose we are all guilty of desiring that the guys in the dark hats are rounded up, exposed for their wickedness and then run out of town. Certainly, there have been people and situations in my life that have left me nursing bitterness and desiring some sort of "what goes around comes around" justice.
But all of this reminds me of the growing distrust among the religious leaders in Jesus' time. He came among people curing sicknesses, releasing those trapped in demonic possession, eating and drinking with public sinners, and he even had the audacity to make himself unclean by reaching out to lepers, to pagans and all manner of outcasts.
He preached forgiveness and urged others to pray for their enemies. His message was one of radical openness and invitation—"for those have ears to hear." But that radical goodness and compassion would cost him his life.
I welcome the compassionate approach for which Pope Francis has endeared himself to the world. There is a strength and an edge to this agenda; he has been the catalyst behind many moves toward negotiating peace and conciliation on many political fronts.
One would need to read between the lines to discover this very clear agenda because Pope Francis does not broadcast his own power of influence. In fact, he has even stated in an interview that the idea of him being a "rock-star pope" is "insulting" to him.
We can safely conclude, then, that this is not at all a man or a leader who is jostling for position or influence. He has packaged his mission clearly in the wrappings of mercy and compassion and no magazine cover or talking head will dissuade or manipulate that agenda.
Perhaps the height of this witness came at the end of the "20/20" encounter when Pope Francis called out Sister Norma. After years of intense scrutiny and what seemed to be a distrustful examination of Women Religious by The Vatican in recent years, this Holy Father embraced his Sisters with admiration and support.
He sees the unsung heroes who are trying to bring hope and mercy and peace into the lives of the many outcast of our society. I thank God that Pope Francis has a clear agenda to give courage to those following Jesus and urges every one of us to gather around one another in love and support.
I thank God that Pope Francis seeks to invite rather than condemn. As Mother Teresa once quipped, "If you judge people, you have no time to love them."
Let's not waste any time in judgment but give all our time in service and in the important task of revealing God's mercy. God bless and protect our precious Holy Father, Francis.
(Father John Roche, SDB, is director of the Institute of Salesian Studies at Don Bosco Hall, an affiliate of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Berkeley.)
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