If you speak a dead language or dropped everything yesterday at approximately 3:30 EST to watch a live feed from the Vatican, you know that habemus papam means “Ladies and gentlemen, we haaaaave a pope.” (I added the ladies and gentlemen part.) We don’t have just any old pope, we have our first Jesuit pope, and our first pope from a continent other than Europe since the Middle Ages. I like firsts. It means we’re making progress. Usually.
As I watched Pope Francis I make his way onto the balcony, overlooking tremendous crowd that had gathered in St. Peter’s Square, I couldn’t help but feel great hope for our Church.
When I was a nerdy exchange student in high school, I had the incredible fortune of attending an audience with Pope John Paul II. I was sixteen, and no taller than I am now (I suppose that goes without saying?), and could barely see over the heads of those in front of me. We waited for the pope to emerge, and many around us chanted “Viva il Papa.” When he spoke his first words to the room, I burst into tears. I don’t really know why, other than I just knew this was an important moment. There was a Swiss guard at the end of our row of seats who must have witnessed my, um… moment, if you will. He kindly rushed over and encouraged me to stand on my chair, so that I could see better.
Having grown up Catholic, I’ve had a number of defining moments when it comes to my faith (bear with me, and I promise I am not trying to covert nor terrify anyone). That was certainly one of them. Most have been much less glamorous or dramatic. Some have been more challenging than uplifting. There have been times when I’ve worried that my convictions, which seem so opposite to the Church’s teachings, make me less Catholic. Or that things are too broken. I’ve seen suffering that has broken my heart. But I have also witnessed the good, the grace, the humility and the community that are the real foundations of our faith.
When I was a freshperson at Fordham (before transferring to BC… I took a sort of a mini tour of the Jesuit universities of the Northeast), one of my professors made us write AMDG (short hand for ad majorem Dei gloriam, the Jesuit motto which means “for the greater glory of God”), next to our names, on all of our assignments. At first I thought it was just a formality, but I soon realized it was a sort of accountability practice (and possibly the sneakiest guilt trip ever). Was I really going to offer up some piece of crap paper for the greater glory of God? Nope. Well, not in good conscience at least.
I worked harder in that class than I had before. Those four letters, and the message behind them, have had application well beyond my class assignments. They’ve informed my real life work, my relationships, my interactions with strangers, my political and social beliefs, and so on. Samesies (sorry, had to bring it down a notch) for other tenets of Ignatian spirituality (St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuit order) – including the Daily Examen, vocational discernment, and a commitment to social justice. Oh, and the Jesuits don’t take life too seriously. (Click here for proof.) That helps.
People are not perfect, and so our leadership will never be perfect. But if we focus on the basics (the good, the grace, the humility and the community that I mentioned before), and share responsibility in caring for one another, I think we’ll be moving in the right direction.
Needless to say, I am feeling hopeful. (I wanted to write popeful so badly, but I am attempting to practice restraint. It is Lent, after all.)
Also On Tap for Today:
What was your favorite college course? What else rhymes with pope?