From Papal Visit to Packed Pews, they call it. That’s the Archdiocesan operative’s plan to get some “bounce” (to use a Washington term) in the faith life of our local church from the recent visit of our Holy Father Pope Francis.
In the three weeks since the visit, I have had an amazing array of people tell me just how much the Pope’s visit excited and moved them. Many of them were people who received their tickets to the Mass of Canonization from our parish allotment, and therefore are people I know well and see often. But there were also many others, including some whom I had only just met. It is the first subject of conversation when I run into non-Catholic friends and acquaintances, as well; they profess to share in some of the excitement too.
An ever-growing percentage of the population around us claims and professes identities, associations, and ideologies that are not only Catholic or Christian, but sometimes even opposed to Catholicism and Christianity. An ever-growing number of Catholics are comfortable with, and confident in, those same identities, associations, and ideologies, sometimes without realizing how they conflict with the basic truths of Divine Revelation in Jesus Christ.
Our Archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, recently released a Pastoral Letter whose purpose is summed up in its title, Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge. Beautifully printed copies of this letter are available for you, now, in the church.
He points out: As Americans, we are not required to carry around identity papers or wear special insignia on our clothing marking us as Christian. Nevertheless, each day the world does ask us, “Are you Christian?” We must answer truthfully and then act accordingly. If we are Christian, then Christ should be recognizable in us, and we should not be made to mask him or appear to be something else.
Our Holy Father made it his frequent refrain that all Catholics are called, first to conversion, then to witness: first to seek God’s mercy, then to offer it. To remember the excitement of the visit and forget the content of the message would be to betray Pope Francis, and undermine the purpose of his visit. This may seem like a burden, but in reality it makes for a great opportunity for the Church in the United States, in Washington, and in Four Corners.
There is an abundance of good will toward the Pope in particular, Catholics in general, and the Church herself, which in our nation can never be taken for granted, but especially now. All the more true right now is what His Eminence observed: “What does the Church bring to society?” Even when people seem to pose this question as a challenge, deep down there is usually a note of hope in it. After seeing the Pope, and the crowds, more people will be wondering, and well-disposed. They will be turning to you and me with that question, and that hope. We must respond ourselves, not with expectations for someone somewhere else in the Church.
Our Catholic identity, even when challenged, should remain for us a source of conviction and pride. As God was with those who first accepted the challenge, “You will be my witnesses,” so God is with us as we accept the summons to be faithful witnesses to our Catholic faith today in all that we say and do. By taking our Archbishop's exhortation to heart, and following our Holy Father’s example ourselves, we will do more than pack the pews: we will draw souls to Christ. Now that is “bounce.”