I was fully ten years old before I met a Roman Catholic. After all, there were only two of them in my childhood home of Century, Florida: Miss Nellie and Miss Mary Moylan, elderly sisters who, with their two massively obese basset hounds, were the very embodiment of Southern eccentricity. Of course, being somewhat eccentric, myself, we bonded easily in spite of a 60-year age difference, and I was their frequent visitor once I was allowed to ride my bike across Highway 29 to their sagging turn-of-the-century dogtrot with verandas on three sides.
I might not even have known about their religion were it not for all the Roman Catholic art on the walls for me to ask about, including a particularly gruesome bleeding heart pierced with a crown of thorns, and multiple portraits of both Pope John XXIII and the Madonna, and they were only too delighted to fill me in on what it all meant. They explained about going to Mass instead of church, and one time we even piled into their car so they could show me their tiny little chapel just over the Alabama line in Flomaton – which remains to this day the smallest functioning house of worship I have ever visited. In those days, it was still a mission outpost of Brewton’s St Maurice Church (about 16 miles further north), but even then, the number of parishioners was so small that Mass was only said there once a month.
In other words, in my childhood, Catholicism was almost entirely foreign, so it is perhaps unexpected that I would include as a regular feature of this blog the wisdom of Pope Francis, but from the very beginning of his ascendency he has been hitting on two very specific themes that are precisely aligned with my own, and that has got my attention. The first are his frequent references to “Beauty, Goodness and Truth” as the indicators of, signs of, promises of God the Father – something that I clearly believe, as well – and, second, a few months back he actually tweeted the exact words that my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Lethcoe, said to me when I was only five to launch me on my personal journey of faith: “Jesus just wants to be your Friend,” words that, until he said them, I had never heard repeated anywhere else in all the years since, in spite of a lifetime of churchly experience. After that, I was hooked, at least to the point of paying attention to what this new kind of Pope – this reinvented leader of the Catholic Church – has to say.
In my hope to include a photo of that little Flomaton church to illustrate this post, I called Father Adrian Cook at St. Maurice’s this afternoon to see if he could help me find it on Streetview (which he clearly did), but aside from that, we had a lovely short conversation about his new boss and, in particular, Pope Francis’s remarkable gift for finding lessons within scripture that, while perfectly obvious once he relates them, we’ve never really thought of before, no matter how many times we may have read or heard them.
For example, in his Palm Sunday sermon just this week, rather than focusing upon the actions and suffering of Jesus as most sermons do this time of the year, he chose to focus upon all the other people in the story, the bystanders, spectators, participants in the crucifixion story as it unfolded, that we might, through them, take a good, long look at our own lives, our own priorities, our own emerging souls. His words:
“We have listened to the Passion of the Lord. It will do us good to ask the question, who am I? Who am I before my Lord? Who am I, before Jesus Who enters Jerusalem on this feast day? Am I able to express my joy, to praise Him? Or do I keep my distance? Who am I, before Jesus Who suffers?
“We have heard many names: the group of leaders, some who are priests, some Pharisees, some doctors of the Law, who had decided to kill Him. They waited for the opportunity to take Him. Am I like one of them?
“We have also heard another name: Judas. Thirty coins. Am I like Judas?…
“Am I like Pilate, in that when I see that the situation is difficult, I wash my hands of it and do not assume my responsibility and condemn people, or allow them to be condemned?
“Am I like that crowd that does not know if it is in a religious meeting, a court of judgement or a circus, and chooses Barabas? For them it was all the same: it was more entertaining to humiliate Jesus.
“Am I like the soldiers who strike the Lord, who spit on Him, insult Him, who amuse themselves by humiliating the Lord?
“Am I like the Cyrenian who returned from work, weary, but who had the good will to help the Lord carry the cross?
“Am I like those who passed before the Cross and made fun of Jesus: ‘He was so brave! If he comes down from the Cross we will believe in Him!’ Making fun of Jesus”.
“Am I like those brave women, such as the Mother of Jesus, who were there, who suffered in silence?
“Am I like Joseph [of Aramathea], the secret disciple who carried the corpse of Jesus with love, to bury him [in the tomb he had made for his own]?
“Am I like the two Marys, who remained before His tomb crying and praying?
“Am I like the leaders who, the following day. went to Pilate to say, ‘Look, this man said that he would be resurrected. Careful that this is not another trick’ and blocked the life, blocked the entrance to the tomb to defend doctrine, so that life does not come out?
“Where is my heart? Which of these people do I resemble? May this question accompany us throughout the week”.
There are many ways to respond to the story of Jesus, to His life, His promise, His resurrection. May we all aspire to emulate those who act out of love, and, whether our celebrations this week are of Easter or Passover or just the rites of Spring, I pray that we may each find renewal and strength as the days lengthen and the sun warms.
Tomorrow: an angel story. Have a great night!
 https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/the-living-water-boson/ Part Four
 https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/uncle-jesus/ The Second Thread