|via Wikimedia Commons|
My main reaction was amazement that a 78-year old would have the stamina to make state visits to Cuba and then carry out a papal U.S. tour with a grueling schedule. I began praying for his health.
Then Pope Francis began speaking and, as I linked to the full text of his addresses for others, I began reading them myself.
I was impressed. And touched. These were the words of someone who clearly had prepared by caring enough to find out what mattered to us. Our heroes were mentioned. Our proud history as a nation of immigrants. Our current struggles.
Over and over, Pope Francis was reaching out toward us in the way we'd understand best, by showing us that he cared about who we are. Which, after all is what a good shepherd does.
It came together for me when watching Archbishop Thomas Wenski on Stephen Colbert's "pope-isode" (which was terrific, by the way). Colbert asked him what the pope was trying to do with visits to Cuba and the U.S. The bishop replied simply, "He's trying to change the culture."
I mean, I knew that. But I didn't know it, it didn't hit home until then.
Both Cuba and the U.S. need culture changes to be what we should be in God's eyes, walking in God's way. For all our differences, we are exactly the same. We fall far short, just in ways that reflect our different cultures, our ways of seeing the world. This applies to every country on earth. We all need a culture change. And I was seeing Pope Francis put in the time and effort, pouring himself out, to try to get us to see where the change needs to happen.
This isn't what I'd call "the Francis effect" because what happened to me was fairly gentle. It was a new appreciation for Francis because I suddenly felt as if he cared about me, for who I am as an American. Certainly it made me read his addresses more thoughtfully, with more thought for my own life. (Book publishers, do we have a "Francis Talks to the U.S." book planned - with all these talks in it? Because I wouldn't even wait for the library to get it. I'd buy it.)
Tom's been reading Pope Francis's address to Congress a few paragraphs at a time. It has stimulated a lot of conversation. But we always comes back to the key point: where do we need to pour ourselves out?
Obviously we change the culture simply by being fully ourselves in daily life. If every single Christian did that always, then our culture would change. But that is far from all that we can or should do. It isn't how Jesus lived or the first Christians or the saints. How do we be like that? Where should we pour ourselves out?
Side note: speaking of "the Francis effect," I've also seen similar results from visits by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict here and abroad. I tend to agree with Ross Douthat's assessment.
But there is a common thread that binds Benedict’s success despite low expectations and often-savage coverage and Francis’s success amid high enthusiasm and generally-fawning coverage: Secularism is weaker than many people think.=======