When we welcomed Pope Francis into our country, I’m sure many of you moms, like me, dreamt of traveling to be with the crowds who were there to celebrate, listen, and pray with the pontiff. Of course, for most of us, it never got further than a fleeting, wishful thought.
But we watched from home. Calling our kids into the room when the Pope appeared on the screen. Straining to hear his broken English as we listened from the kitchen. Stopping in our tracks while carrying laundry baskets to listen to snippets of commentary from the exuburant reporters. Catching an interview with a weeping bystander between the dentist appointment and the basketball game.
Thanks to my gloriously Catholic college, my husband and I have a blessedly big collection of friends, now scattered throughout the country, who made the trek to be there. Families, priests, nuns, all posting photos and updates and selfies from the heart of the action. Some actually sang for the Papal Mass. One family we know was blessed by his hands as he lingered near their spot in line.Local leaders took our intentions with them and journeyed to represent our desert diocese. They met up with our beloved bishop and shared his words with us back home. Pictures of their pilgrimage were sprinkled in my newsfeed each day. And I loved it all. I loved hearing, seeing, thinking, praying from afar.
If you were like me, you teared up watching John Boehner cry, got all warm inside when the Pope hugged prisoners, laughed seeing his delight at a baby wearing a Pope ensemble. And still, there may have been a tinge of melancholy and wistfulness. Because, in the end, you weren’t there.
Ahhh. But you were.
You were there, sweet woman, because Pope Francis came for you and all that you are for, and you were carried by love to the center of his thoughts and his prayers. He had you with him.
The “Gospel of the Family” he proclaims is your life. You are the living Gospel. And when he said in the homily at St. Junipero Serra’s canonization Mass that “the joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away,” he was speaking not just of missionaries, but also of the daily giving of yourself that begins as soon as your feet hit the floor – and often before! The first load of laundry flung in before dawn. The kiss on your husband’s sleepy cheek. The lunches packed, the toast buttered, the crosses traced on foreheads as children dash out the door.
Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. ‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded’, says Jesus (cf.Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those gestures we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children, by brothers and sisters. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to vecome life, and life to grow in faith.
It seems that the little things that “get lost” – those things you spend your life doing – are not lost on the Holy Father.
He knew reason you were home in September was because you were busy living the Gospel he came to preach. You were the living Gospel. A perfect one? No, the Pope knows that too. That’s why, in the prayer vigil for the Festival of Families he said, “Children are hard work” and “children cause headaches.” He reminded us that even though “families always, always have crosses” yet the family is a “workshop of hope.” We are all a work in progress.
Perfect families do not exist. This must not discourage us. Quite the opposite. Love is something we learn; love is something we live; love grows as it is ‘forged’ by concrete situations which each particular family experiences. Love is born and constantly develops amid lights and shadows.
So while you bounced that baby and sorted socks and thawed ground beef and kissed boo-boos and quizzed Latin verbs and spelling words and tossed up tired but heartfelt prayers, you were Eucharistically united to our Papa. He was speaking to you and about you. You embody his message. You are the witness that the Christian family is not just a lofty ideal but a living “workshop of hope.” You are the Gospel the world meets in the grocery store and the park and at Chick-fil-A, and maybe the only Gospel someone will encounter. Your family is the sometimes smeary but always sunny window into a Church impossibly vast and unshakably true.
In other words, dear Catholic mother, if the Pope is the head of the Church, this amazing and mysterious Body, you are undeniably the heart. In other words, where he goes, you go.
In other words, you were there.