Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Living Heart: Attending Pope Francis' Mass in Washington, D.C.

You guys.  The Pope.  I count myself so blessed to have attended Francis' canonization Mass for now-Saint Junipero Serra (with a seat, in the semi-shade, no less!) last Wednesday, yet was surprised by all the mixed feelings in my heart when what I expected was more along the lines of happiness and fortitude alone.  Beforehand, I tried to be conscious of not trying to force myself into any particular emotions surrounding the Pope's visit, but just prayed that his words would take root in my heart and bear fruit in my vocation and my spiritual life.  It's only now, nearly a week later, that I'm starting to recognize those fruits and hoping they're just the seed of things even more significant to come.

I didn't want to have my phone out much, but by the time we got home I did have about 20 versions each of this photo of us and of the view from our seats.  I want to call it pew-view, but you know, it wasn't a pew... 

Truthfully, when a few people asked me how I felt about going to the Mass, the first word that came to mind was "undeserving," but I felt sort of insecure giving that as an answer.  I felt undeserving not just in the greater spiritual sense that any good I receive is purely thanks to grace, but in the sense that I applied late to ask for tickets from my parish and was surprised to receive them, I'd never even heard of St. Junipero until I had my tickets, with his name on them, in hand, and I found out I was going only a few days beforehand; I felt like aside from happening to have gone to confession the weekend prior, I wasn't particularly prepared, spiritually, for a papal encounter.

It's uncomfortable, writing this.  The day after the Mass, as I scrolled through all my social media peppered with excitement over Francis' visit, I felt a growing sense of guilt that I didn't…I don't know, feel more.  I suspected what I did feel, which was kind of down on myself, had nothing to do with the Mass or the Pope, but with my own deficiency, which I don't exactly enjoy contending with.  Lately I've been feeling in a spiritual rut, a creative rut, and just generally not as alive as I'd like to be, thanks to a little too much time in front of screens.  I've been revisiting Francis' homily over and over the last few days.  His invitation to rejoice, as in the Mass' second reading, even when "so much seems to stand in the way of this invitation," and his reminder to the faithful of St. Junipero's personal motto, "always forward," maybe should've left me with a renewed spirit of mission and determination, yet I felt more a sense of defeat and frustration with myself.  The Pope pointed out that in the absence of joy, habit and apathy can come to govern us too entirely, "with a fatal consequence: our hearts grow numb."  Yikes.

The more times I meditated on his words, though, the better I started to feel.  Francis doesn't stop at this statement, nor intend it to be just a warning, I don't think.  He invites us to overcome "the force of habit" with a love for the Gospel and for sharing it "in faces of wounds, of thirst, of weariness, doubt and pity."  There are obvious examples of literal woundedness, thirst, and doubt in our brothers and sisters, those more than worthy of works of mercy.  Yet in another way, those faces are the faces of all of us, and certainly me.  As the faithful, I feel like he's saying we've been entrusted with much, yet being on the inside of the truth doesn't mean we're strangers to brokenness and imperfection.

But we also aren't strangers to the hope of our redemption.  I'm filled with admiration and surprise-yet-not-surprise at how Pope Francis so often asked those he met on his visit to pray for him, and how often he seemed to indicate that he wasn't just coming to us, but that we were coming to him.  Since his election, it's been so clear to me what a man of humility and Franciscan poverty he is, which maybe is why being at this Mass felt so unusually…normal.  Even in the presence of the Holy Father and in a different setting than my usual parish, I sort of just felt like I was at a Mass--a beautiful, elevated one, to be sure--but not like I was being spoken to by a celebrity or showman.  Just like I was being spoken to by Christ.

I had the pleasure of going to Mass and brunch with Jen this weekend, and described to her my struggle to put the experience of encountering Pope Francis into words.  Amazingly, she got it.  She told me the story of the time she walked into St. Peter's Basilica for Adoration.  Even in the midst of extraordinary beauty, history, and holiness, she said, she didn't feel overwhelmed with sentiment or drama, but simply felt the complete peace of knowing she was home.  That, ultimately, is one of the things I love about the Catholic faith: no matter where you're coming from, what language the Mass is in (this one was in Spanish!), or what wounds you bear, the liturgy, the sacraments, and the potential for boundless joy are home to us.  Thank you, Papa, for reminding me.  May my heart be not numb, but broken open, a heart of flesh united to Jesus' sacred heart.

How about you?  I'd love to hear about your experience of the papal visit, and not just if you saw him in person!  How did the Holy Father speak to your heart?

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