Last night as I watched Pope Francis speak with thousands at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia I was amazed at his energy. This 78-year-old man has been at break-neck speed all week, traveling first to Cuba, then to Washington, DC, onto New York and now Philadelphia. His schedule has been non-stop. He has given several long speeches in English, which he has admitted is a difficult language for him.
Last night he spoke his native Italian about families and the energy and passion were palpable. He emptied himself to the crowd, pouring out his heart, preaching the message of love. Honestly, you didn’t even need a translator–his face and hand motions said it all.
Whether or not you have religious beliefs there is no doubt the Pope’s message is universal about the importance of the family to our world. I particularly loved this quote about openness of heart and its consequences:
Let’s go back. When man and his wife made a mistake, God did not abandon them [referring to Adam and Eve]. So great was His love, that He began to walk with humanity, with His people, until the right moment came, and He made the highest expression of love – His own Son. And where did He send his son – to a palace? To a city? No. He sent him to a family. God sent him amid a family. And He could do this, because it was a family that had a truly open heart. The doors of their heart opened.
Mary, she couldn’t believe it. How can this happen? When the angel explained it to her, she agreed. Joseph. He finds himself in a surprising situation that he doesn’t understand, and he accepts. He obeys. In Mary and Joseph, there is a family in which Jesus is born.
I was working on a new book I’m about to submit to a publisher; it’s a prayer book based on the writings of Louisa May Alcott, my favorite author. One of the passages from Little Women that I am using kept flashing through my mind as I thought about the Pope’s basic message: that all life is precious, whatever its form or stage. All life is beautiful and the love we show to others, especially the less fortunate, draws us closer to God, for, as Pope Francis said, God is beautiful.
This is the passage:
There were six dolls to be taken up and dressed every morning, for Beth was a child still and loved her pets as well as ever. Not one whole or handsome one among them, all were outcasts till Beth took them in, for when her sisters outgrew these idols, they passed to her because Amy would have nothing old or ugly. Beth cherished them all the more tenderly for that very reason, and set up a hospital for infirm dolls. No pins were ever stuck into their cotton vitals, no harsh words or blows were ever given them, no neglect ever saddened the heart of the most repulsive, but all were fed and clothed, nursed and caressed with an affection which never failed. One forlorn fragment of dollanity had belonged to Jo and, having led a tempestuous life, was left a wreck in the rag bag, from which dreary poorhouse it was rescued by Beth and taken to her refuge. Having no top to its head, she tied on a neat little cap, and as both arms and legs were gone, she hid these deficiencies by folding it in a blanket and devoting her best bed to this chronic invalid … She brought it bits of bouquets, she read to it, took it out to breathe fresh air, hidden under her coat, she sang it lullabies and never went to bed without kissing its dirty face and whispering tenderly, “I hope you’ll have a good night, my poor dear.”
Beth would eventually live out such compassion caring for the poor Hummel family, even to the risk of her own health. In the scene from Chapter 17 of Little Women, she cares for the baby who has Scarlet Fever:
“Christopher Columbus! What’s the matter?” cried Jo …
“ … Oh, Jo, the baby’s dead!”
“Mrs. Hummel’s. It died in my lap before she got home,” cried Beth with a sob.
“My poor dear, how dreadful for you! I ought to have gone,” said Jo, taking her sister in her arms as she sat down in her mother’s big chair, with a remorseful face.
“It wasn’t dreadful, Jo, only so sad! I saw in a minute it was sicker, but Lottchen said her mother had gone for a doctor, so I took Baby and let Lotty rest. It seemed asleep, but all of a sudden if gave a little cry and trembled, and then lay very still. I tried to warm its feet, and Lotty gave it some milk, but it didn’t stir, and I knew it was dead.”
“Don’t cry, dear! What did you do?”
“. . . it was very sad, and I cried with them . . .”
This is exactly the kind of radical love that Pope Francis is asking from all of us. We are all God’s children.
In the middle of the Pope’s homily last night, I checked Facebook for reaction and found this:
Cassidy, the miracle kitten, speeding away in his custom-made wheelchair! All because a woman named Shelly Roche recognized his will to live and believed he deserved a chance for a good life. And by sharing this kitten with the world though a live kitten cam, thousands of others empathized and offered their support, not just through words, but through deeds. As a result, a kitten on death’s door, emaciated and infected with e-coli, is now bright-eyed, energetic, happy, and zooming!
Another beautiful metaphor for the Pope’s message: “… every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures.” (quote taken from Pope Francis’ address to the United Nations).
Broken dolls, injured kittens . . . the people in our lives. Being open to love, to give love and receive love. The cost of that love and the beautiful consequences. I will be thinking on the images of Beth March and Cassidy the miracle kitten as I continue to ponder the message of Pope Francis and live it out in my daily life.
What image comes to mind as you consider all that Pope Francis has spoken about this week?
Copyright 2015 by Susan W. Bailey