21st Sunday of the Year

Dear Friends in Christ,

One month from now, Pope Francis will visit the United States for several days, during which he will speak to a joint session of Congress in Washington, celebrate the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and then address the United Nations in New York. This visit will not only be the first time Pope Francis has been in the United States, it will also be the first time Jorge Bergoglio has ever been in North America, and so we should expect the visit to attract extraordinary attention all around the country and the world.

Since his election to the Chair of St. Peter in March 2013, Pope Francis has demonstrated that he enjoys speaking extemporaneously and with colorful language designed to provoke the hearer to think deeply about his life and friendship with the Lord Jesus. This easy informality can be delightfully surprising from a pope, and it certainly plays well in the press. But it can also lead to confusion and misunderstanding, particularly when the secular media spin the pope’s remarks to fit their agenda – something that happens regularly. For this reason, it is important for us to remember not to take at face value anything we read or hear about the pope’s words during his visit in September. Instead, be sure to read the actual text of the pope’s addresses and accurate transcripts of his informal remarks. There are many places on the internet to find the pope’s words, and a quick search should turn those up.

Even more than that, however, I encourage everyone to learn more about the early life and priestly ministry of Jorge Bergoglio in Argentina. Understanding this remarkable pontificate really isn’t possible without some knowledge of the man, and a very good place to start learning about Bergoglio’s life is a book called “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope” by the British scholar Austen Ivereigh. Knowing about the circumstances of Bergoglio’s childhood and education in Buenos Aires, together with his experiences as a young Jesuit superior in the midst of social chaos in Argentina and revolutionary fervors in the Church, is very helpful in grasping that Pope Francis defies easy categorization and certainly transcends the American way of dividing everyone into Left and Right.

Pope Francis has called the universal Church to keep a Jubilee of Mercy that will begin this December on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. During the Jubilee, Francis wants us all to learn how to show the world that the Church is a tender nurse in a field hospital rather than an angry scold rebuking people for their weakness and to be able to do so without compromising the truth of the Gospel which calls us all to continual and ever deeper conversion. Let us pray that during the pope’s visit to the United States, everyone will see and hear the Successor of Peter as a witness to the Lord Jesus Christ and the transformative power of God’s grace.

Father Newman