In December, my husband and I had the incredible privilege of traveling to Rome for some meetings about our missionary non-profit (which were incredible, but that is a story for another day). On our first full day in Rome, we were able to attend a Papal audience with tickets for special seating. It was a light crowd that day, which made it possible for us to be very near the front when Pope Francis passed by the personally greet the crowds. It also means he was able to take his time and he made his way around that morning.
It was a crisp, sunny morning. Pope Francis had just returned from his pastoral visit to Africa. It was barely a week before the inauguration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. People commented on how tired he must be. I thought about all the things that must be on his mind as he returned to Rome.
But Francis’ demeanor gave away nothing of the sort. He was joyful and constantly flashing his kind smile. He greeted his protocol staff on the way out with pats on the back and shared laughter. His attention to each person he met was full and complete and he exuded the feeling that each person mattered to him, that he was fully present to each one in the small moment he had with him/her.
When the day had moved on and I was able to process this amazing experience, it occurred to me that the Wednesday general audiences for the Pope are akin to my time serving the dinner plates or passing around warm coffee in the morning. It is a part of his regular, weekly duties. He has to do it whether he is jet-legged on his return from a long trip, brooding a cold, or preparing to launch the Church into a Jubilee year. The rhythm of his life requires him to be present to this task no matter what else is happening.
And what I learned watching him that day is that Pope Francis offers himself to that time fully; he is truly present to the people who have come to see him. He is aware that what for him is an everyday duty, for them is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And he honors that by being fully, joyfully present to the his flock, to the people he is called to serve. He turns his ordinary duty into an extraordinary encounter that reveals Christ with the gift of being fully present.
How many times a day in my own life am I called to stop doing what I think is the important task at hand to serve someone? As a missionary and a mother, my day is full of these opportunities. A child who needs me to help him with a task, a mom arriving at our pregnancy hostel who needs a warm meal, the dishes in the sink that need to washed and made ready for the next go-round. It is easy to slide into a habit of doing those things with a sense of the routine, the ordinary. To get the job done so I can get back to whatever thing I consider important in that moment.
But my close encounter with Pope Francis reminded me that the gift of being present to even our most routine tasks of service is joy. If his face is any indication, and I think it is, he honestly enjoys every minute of his weekly encounter with the faithful and all that it entails. An extraordinary joy radiates from the crowd to him and from him back to the crowd. There is nothing is his demeanor that communicates that he’s rather hurry and get this done so he can get back to his “real” work. His present turns one ordinary duty of his role into an extraordinary encounter with Christ.
And his example reminded me that I can do the same. If I can live fully present to the ordinary moments and ordinary tasks that wind through my days as a wife, mother and missionary, they can be transformed into something altogether extraordinary. I can find great joy jn the ladeling of the soup and in the face that receives it. And I can transform an ordinary moment into an encounter with the love of Christ for the people I am called to serve, both my own family and the people we serve on the mission field.
Because of this lesson, I am choosing “present” as my word for this year. I am going to try to “Live Like (Pope) Francis,” with my heart fully in the game. No matter how simple or routine the task I am about may be, I am going to try to find joy in it. And I am going to try to see the ordinary, everyday service I am called to offer as an extraordinary opportunity to see and be Christ present. I am going to take the lesson I learned in my close encounter with Pope Francis and endeavor to make it part of my daily habits.
Do you have a word you are focusing on this year? How do you stay present to the ordinary tasks of your days and transform them into extraordinary opportunities to share Christ?
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Copyright 2016 Colleen Mitchell