Every day it seems there is another phenomenal story in the media about Pope Francis. It shouldn’t be so surprising to see someone act in such a Christlike manner and yet the actions of this man have caused the world at large to sit up and take notice.
Being a fairly outspoken Catholic, I’m often asked what I think about Pope Francis. People sometimes ask because they’ve heard of his seemingly endless charity. Others ask because they’ve heard media distortions of the Pope’s comments that lead them to believe that he is fundamentally changing Catholicism (clearly this guy bought that argument, sigh).
If I’m to answer the question honestly I have to point to how often Pope Francis challenges my heart. It’s like he shines a light on my soul, which is often more willing to engage in my faith from an armchair and a keyboard, not reaching out to the “least of these” around me. He puts my priorities in perspective and challenges me to stop holding on so tightly to the world. He reminds me what joy looks like and how fleeting many of our troubles really are. And it hurts in the best way possible. We all need to be destroyed a little bit (ok, a lot bit). We need to shatter the idol of self and turn our gaze outward. Once you see an authentic example of this, there’s just nowhere to hide.
While New Media has certainly helped spread the word of Pope Francis’s Christ-like deeds, it is the deeds themselves that have garnered the attention. There is a lesson to be learned from this for all of us engaging in New Media, and it is a message that spans the history of Christendom itself.
1 If I speak in human and angelic tongues* but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
In this season of Advent, as the Church awaits the celebration of the birth of Jesus, I hope we look to the example of Pope Francis and understand that the world at large is also awaiting Christ in you and me. Pope Francis has showed us the way. Daily, he is teaching us what evangelism means. He, and the world, now await our hands and feet to follow his example and bring Christ into their midst.
“Go…” (Matthew 28:19).
As has become my annual August tradition, it’s time once again to turn towards sharing a bit of wisdom with our oldest, Emily (links here in case you missed my wisdom for a five, six and seven year old).
More than ever before, I’ve found crafting my thoughts very difficult this year. I think, this is because I’m mindful that, at the age of eight, Emily could actually read them. It’s easier to dispense advice to a child who has no hope of actually processing or adopting it. Now, as in so many other areas of life as a parent, the stakes seem to be higher. I feel more accountable for my actions and more responsible for the influence I’m having on this rapidly growing person.
As I searched my heart for things that I wanted to say, I realized a theme emerging. I want to guard the heart of my little girl for just a little bit longer, even as I know that we’re about to send her into another school year of challenges.
Regardless of these challenges, I once again tackle the task at hand. I do hope you enjoy and thank you for reading.
Seriously, you’re eight now? How did that happen?
It wasn’t that long ago when I was walking your mom around the Fort Worth Zoo in 105 degree heat, trying to make you come out. Ok, it was that long ago, but I have a tough time believing it.
On the occasion of your eighth birthday I endeavor to share a little bit more wisdom – some gleaned from another year as your parent and some things I still need to learn.
You are different in the best kind of ways
You’re an odd duck, and mom and I love that about you. We love your strange obsession with cats and penchant for picking out the most ridiculous clothes in any store. There are few things more amazing than your ostrich impression. But those personality quirks that make you Emily are not the kind of “different” that I’m talking about.
You’re different because you already have a beautiful and bold faith. Last year you wrestled with the weight of your own failings and faced them with bravery in confession. I’m still learning the lesson you taught me about the joy that comes from a new realization of love and grace.
You stood up and recognized Christ in the Eucharist at your first communion and every week thereafter.
As time goes on, you’ll be amazed to find out how much this faith makes you stand apart as fundamentally different. This being different doesn’t always feel very good, but the deeper you dig into this faith, the more inexhaustible you’ll find its gifts to be. Mom and I have dug deeper than some, but we still only scratch the surface of all that is to be offered. For you, we pray the greatest gifts of sainthood. Don’t give up the gifts of faith for the oh-so-empty substitute of not feeling different.
There is nothing worse than a bully. Don’t be one and don’t be friends with one. Love them, pray for them and be nice to them, but never be a part of the chorus that urges them on.
Winning and Losing
It’s often said, “there’s a whole lot more to life than winning.” To me, that seems to say, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. So I’ll say it a different way – there’s a whole lot more to life than determining who is the winner and who is the loser, or whether there is even a winner or a loser. We tend to see everything as a competition, like every human interaction is centered on getting the most out of someone else or beating them at some invisible game.
Nothing is more harmful to human relationships, unity or the common good than our unhealthy obsession with competition.
The success of someone else does not mean your failure. The praise given to someone else is not a slight against you.
As far as I can tell, there is no limited amount of success or acclaim. This is not an economy that must be conquered. Throughout your life I believe you’ll find that your own success is dependent on the success of others. Even more, you’ll find yourself most successful and happy when you’re helping others achieve their own success. The only people who see it otherwise are people who whine and say, “thats not fair,” or like a toddler, “mine, mine, mine.” Avoid them at all costs.
I really hoped you’d outgrow this staying up reading late into the night thing. Seriously, why don’t you go to sleep? One day you’ll wish you had slept when you could. You’ll find yourself at thirty-one years old and realize that the only time you have to do anything for yourself is between 4:00 and 6:00 in the morning and you’ll wish there was more time in the day to sleep. If not for yourself, then for me and mom… sleep!
You are the oldest Williston kid and there are certain responsibilities and expectations that come with that. In some ways, having three younger siblings makes you grow up a little faster, and that’s not always fun. But there are also good things that come with that position (like being the only one for whom Dad writes these notes).
By virtue of your position in the family you’re in a natural place of leadership. For whatever reason, God crafted an Emily to be the oldest kid and the de facto leader of the kids in our household. This is just one part of who you’re called to be. It won’t always feel good, but don’t let this responsibility chafe you as much as it could. It, like so many other things, is a gift that you have been given which can help shape who you will become.
Who you will become is beautiful, my dear. You already are and you’ve only just begun to take shape.
Until next year my not-so-little love.
Good things are coming soon here at This Pilgrim’s Progress. As you may or may not know, I’ve been working on many other projects that kept me from writing here regularly. That, however, is soon to change. In the meantime, my beautiful wife suggested that I link to the writing I’m doing elsewhere here on This Pilgrim’s Progress.
That said, I hope you’ll check out the piece I wrote over at Austin Catholic New Media today, entitled The Perfect Time for Parenting.
I’ll never forget when my wife, Michelle, told me we were pregnant the first time. I unwrapped a gift to find tiny baby booties inside with a note that said, “Can’t wait to meet you, Daddy.”
As I recall, I just started laughing. And then I kept on laughing. And then laughed some more.
Over the last 24 hours, I’ve been asked quite a bit what I think about the new Pope.
Honestly, I’ve been so busy with other things that writing these words are the first opportunity I’ve had to really process the election of Pope Francis.
So… what do I think?
On one level, I was surprised that the Cardinal Electors chose a Pope who is 78 years old. Pope Emeritus Benedict, upon his retirement, said that the job was best suited for a younger man with more energy to tackle the issues facing the church. I wondered if the electors would take that as a charge to elect a much younger man.
I was expecting the Cardinals to select a man who would be outspoken. After all, it seems a critical moment in the life of the church and of human history for that matter. Post modernism has done its work at eroding any sense of absolutes and, honestly, I think that many throughout the world are reeling from the disorientation that arises when you lose sight of “true north,” as it were.
However, this led me reflect on what I really expect in a Pope and, further, what God really expects of me as a Christian living my faith in the world. Are we called to be vocal opponents of secularism and moral relativism? Are we supposed to be on the front lines of philosophical and theological battles? Can we wrestle this world into heaven with the weight of our arguments and the effectiveness of our speech?
In contemplating these questions I realized the genius of the pick. A man who would choose the name Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, is making a statement about his own place in the world. St. Francis was a man committed to poverty and service. He was a man called by God to rebuild the church, and responded by doing so with his own hands, sweat, service and love.
Last fall I had the opportunity to visit Assisi. As I think of St. Francis and now Pope Francis, my mind is fixed on the image of the tiny unassuming church Portincula, Francis’s church which stands in the heart of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels.
At the heart of our own church now stands an unassuming servant ready to lead with humility and love. Perhaps he’ll be an outspoken critic of the world, but I doubt it. I suspect he’ll lead with the medicine of mercy and love that truly heals and transforms. I only hope that we, as Christians, can follow his lead.
With just over 30 hours left in our pilgrimage before heading to the airport, I plan for this to be the last update that I’ll provide from the road before coming home.
We returned from Assisi today, the details of which I’ll reserve for another time. It was moving and incredible experience walking in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Claire, a fitting “end” to our trip before a final day in Rome tomorrow to catch some of the things we haven’t done yet.
I have spent much of the day contemplating the meaning of this trip. I know I have shared some thoughts along the way, but I am entering the broader range of self-reflection, aimed at what happens next and how God is calling me to carry this journey forward to the journey of faith in the everyday. To be sure, only time will tell how it has affected me practically and spiritually, but here are a few thoughts that have entered my mind thus far.
A few thoughts:
From the first Mass we celebrated in Dominic’s cell to reflecting on the central Catechesis of the Sistine Chapel, I have been reminded of the role I play in the church: to lead the “domestic church” of my family. Michelle and I have been so incredibly blessed and I am so thankful to have the house of love back home to return to. There will be many other opportunities to share the Gospel, but none more important than this.
Lord, help me to lead a house of saints towards you.
In Mass a few days ago, Father Jorge asked us to reflect, not on the ways that we are seeking God, but on how God is seeking us. Indeed, he is the shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one. Everyday we have been here, we’ve had the opportunity to celebrate Mass. We’ve adored the body of Christ in many churches and received the sacrament of reconciliation. This trip has reminded me that God is not only available, he’s inviting. It’s my excuses and failures that lead me to resist the call, choosing instead to compromise with the world.
Lord, help me to answer the call of your voice back to your loving arms.
There is much more to write and be shared, but many thoughts are still in development.
Please pray for a safe voyage home and God bless!
Today was a day of coalescence. Our time in Italy is drawing to a close and, as it does, I think each man in our small band of pilgrims is reflecting on everything that we’ve seen and experienced.
This morning we celebrated Mass at the altar of St. Michael the archangel on the main level of St. Peter’s Basilica. These celebrations becomes more meaningful as we draw deeper into community with one another and share our time around the table of the Lord each day.
Following Mass, our experience here was taken to yet another level (figuratively and literally) as we stepped into the first century Necropolis excavated below St. Peter’s to visit the Apostle’s original burial site. We “walked the streets” of the ancient city of the dead, eventually seeing the bones of St. Peter and the memorial that Constantine built around the inconspicuous altar that was erected over Peter’s grave (only one pillar of which was excavated). Here we stood just 10 feet away from the Apostle, crucified upside down in the Circus of Nero and, likely, cut down from his cross by having his feet chopped off. There are no words to describe the feeling of this place.
Soon after we made our way back to the hotel to grab an overnight bag and catch a train to Assisi, home of Sts. Francis and Claire. Assisi sits high atop a hill in the Italian countryside, marked by three landmarks: a large Cathedral on the South end of town, the huge basilica of St. Francis on the north and the fortress atop the city which served as a refuge for the people of the town in times of attack. As a city, Assisi dates back to the Etruscans (pre-Romans). It is everything you think of when you imagine a small village in Italy. Cobblestones pave the narrow streets, which dart in every direction, up and down the hill. Small pathways lead to seemingly endless staircases that take you up and down each hill. The town is much as it was when Francis and Claire walked the streets and the connection to the history of this place is amazing.
As we arrived in the late afternoon, the town was bathed in the waning light of the day. It shone like gold as we approached from the valley below.
Soon after checking into our hotel for the night we visited the Basilica of St. Francis, seeing his tomb. In the chapel just above it, a single spotlight shines of the crucifix over the altar, casting as beautiful shadow on the frescoed nave, calling all attention back to Christ. This was a wonderful reminder that, as we remember the lives of the saints, we remember Christ, who they glorified with their lives. We study their lives, not out of worship, but as examples of those who sought Christ with reckless abandon. May we all have the passion of saints.
Everyday here makes me feel a deeper connection to the church. The people and places that populated my Church History textbooks are no longer an obscure collection of facts to be memorized. They are alive and memorialized all at the same time.
As we sat around the dinner table tonight, each of us reflected on what the trip has meant to us thus far. One word kept finding its way to each of our lips: home. It’s hard not to feel at home here where so much of our history is buried. It’s also hard not to long to get back to our own homes and families to share the passion that comes from our experiences and our renewed passion to serve the kingdom of God through His church.
We will spend all day in Assisi tomorrow before heading back to Rome for our final day on Saturday. Please pray for us as our journey continues and let us know how we may pray for you.
God bless you!
Today was a day of beauty.
I say that in part because it is the day we took in the masterpieces of the church via the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel. But, that was just the tip of the iceberg of a day filled with beauty.
This morning, as we approached St. Peter’s for our private Mass in the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe, it was clear that something was different. The entrance we had used the day before was closed, as was all of the square, as the Vatican police prepared for the Pope’s Wednesday audience. We walked along the colonnade that runs along the left side of the square to an alternative entrance. Turning the final corner towards the security checkpoint, we found a crowd of hundreds of Polish pilgrims standing before us. The sight was overwhelming as they waved their flags and jumped up and down, laughing and singing in celebration and praise. On one level we just wanted to join them. On another level we wondered how on earth we were going to get through them and into the Vatican. Eventually a car parted the crowd so we chased it to the gates before we were enveloped by the crowd of pilgrims.
I was challenged by the joy of these people. I wish I could have photographed their faces, so filled with enthusiasm. It is like nothing I ever seen in the United States. We’re far too “cool” or cynical or something to be so filled with passion, to express our selves. These pilgrims were a reminder of how contagious joy really is. Beautiful.
Mass in the crypts of St. Peter’s was, of course, wonderful once again. I had the joy of proclaiming the word of God. After waking up to see the election results, I got this reminder from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Do everything without grumbling or questioning,
that you may be blameless and innocent,
children of God without blemish
in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,
among whom you shine like lights in the world,
as you hold on to the word of life,
so that my boast for the day of Christ may be
that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
There is too much beauty to begin to describe in the Vatican museums so I’ll just focus on one thing, the Creation of Adam in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We’ve all seen that image hundreds, if not thousands, of times. We focus on the outstretched finger of God and Adam with his oh so famous “front piece,” (sorry, obscure reference to the television show Arrested Development). Today I felt like my eyes were opened for the first time to the image I had never seen in the painting. Sure, God’s finger is outstretched to Adam, but under his other arm is Eve and his hand is laid upon a child. There, in the center of of the Pope’s personal chapel is the greatest teaching on marriage that the world has ever known: a man created with the gift of woman in store, just waiting to be shared. From the woman and through God come children, family, the domestic church. It reminded me that, though I am a pilgrim here in the city of Rome and I have been given the gift to see and pray and write, my central mission and vocation is the same which stands at the center of that chapel: to be a father and a husband. Beautiful.
Tomorrow we head to Assisi after Mass at St. Peter’s in the morning. Once again, don’t hesitate to email me special intentions for Mass. God bless you.
Other beautiful moments:
Ascending from the crypts of St. Peters to see the basilica alit for Mass while the Polish pilgrims filled the church with hymns of praise.
The booming sound of 200 seminarians reciting vespers at the Pontifical University of North America. Also, the view of Rome from the roof of the University.
There was some discussion on our tour as to whether or not Michelangelo might have been a homosexual. Waldo and I agreed he very well could of been because his work was…FABULOUS! And, yes, Waldo dared me to put this on the blog.