We have had a visitor these past days but one who was immediately at home with us. And we with him! How much he shared with us: his reflections on the issues of the day; his calm and fatherly way of talking to us all beyond our own prejudices and at times self centered concerns. And how many persons have been touched, even if momentarily, by his presence, his generosity, especially his attentiveness to children and those whose own lives merit particular affirmation and genuine love.
Here in New York he spoke to the world at the UN. Then he spoke to our hearts at Ground Zero and later at the Mass in MSG. At the prayer service during his visit to Ground Zero, as the Cantor sang Kaddish and we all joined in the Shalom Eloheinu, it seemed that all the richness of our Jewish Christian tradition became the uniting force for God’s loving plan of salvation. And that is reinforced today in the first reading and the Gospel. Moses and Jesus speak to their hearers, AND To us who might want to restrict God’s love only to ourselves. The love of God is limitless. And His Spirit given so bountifully to Moses and incarnate in Jesus, the Son of God, illumines our hearts and minds. At the same time that Spirit of God is so superabundant that it overflows to touch the hearts of all who are open to his gifts.
Such love, we know, reached its highest expression on the cross. And from that cross flowed the blood and water that cleanses us from sin and nourishes us as His Body. That profound and wondrous act of Jesus is itself the proclamation that we who are transformed must always be ready to be his instruments to open up others to his redeeming love. What we did here at the beginning of Mass is proof that the Spirit “blows where it wills”. My dear catechumens and candidates, God knew from all eternity that you would be here at St. Agnes today. He always respects your freedom but, with a father’s heart, he also has been calling you to come here freely and enter into a pilgrimage of faith that, we all pray, will lead you to the Easter Vigil and full entrance into the Body of Christ.
Whether he spoke to the UN or to Congress, whether he addressed important issues such as immigrants or religious freedom, Pope Francis did so with full respect for us and our history. He did so with full knowledge of the challenges we face in our country today. He urges us to be as generous to new peoples coming to our shores a tradition that includes us all. He labeled this nation as “the land of the free and the home of the brave” and charged us to keep it that way. He reminded us and our leaders that religious freedom has a higher source than government and that the role of government is to guarantee and not to limit our God given rights.
But in all these days his focus was on the family and all those in the family for whom we must have a special concern: children, youth and the elderly. Before the Mass at MSG, I was talking with Abp Demetrios and Abp Basamian about youth. Demetrios said, “We always say that young people are the future of the Church. That is not right. They already are part of the Church. What we bishops must tell them is that the Church is the best guarantee for their future to be fully alive and fully satisfying throughout their lives”. The Church is the future for our youth! I think Pope Francis would say Amen to that. We love our young people and we, especially me and my brother priests, must show that love. We need to show them how the Church is the place where their lives will receive the blessings of a happy and promising tomorrow. There are too many negative forces and we cannot dwell on them constantly. It leads young people astray. There is no better antidote to that than to encourage them to opt for marriage and family life, the true source of life, love and happiness.
Talking to the bishops this morning at the World Meeting of Families, the Pope reminded them that “without the family we would not have even the Church”. We priests and bishops have a call from the Lord to renew and deepen the covenant between family and the Church. Once I went to visit my two best friends in Boston. It was a long day for me. She sent me up to their bedroom where I could take a shower. On the wall in their bathroom was a little reminder, a plaque that said “Never say good night without giving me a kiss”. The most beautiful image for the Church is the bond of love between a man and a woman in marriage. The most inspiring and reassuring impetus for true married life and love is that Christ loves the Church as the bridegroom loves his bride.
The tragedies and the words and deeds that undermine life and love are well documented. Many of them have been placed before us today in the Gospel and the letter of St James. When we place goods over people, or fall prey to the four great vices of overweening, pride, reckless desire for power, unending thirst for pleasure or self-centered thirst for prestige, we undermine the most beautiful and uplifting sources of true happiness and enduring joy. May the words of Pope Francis and the example he has given us teach us to be more sensitive to one another, more caring for those who are vulnerable, marginalized, helpless and poor, and more unflagging in living our faith in the unity of Christ, the faith that guarantees true freedom, hope for the future and blessings for us all.