A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’ David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”
We all have been attuned to the famous visitor who graced our beautiful city this week. Our city was fully focused for two days – in fact our country and the world – on the visit of our Holy Father Pope Francis on Thursday and Friday as part of his first-ever visit to the United States. As you know, he was in Washington first, and now he is in Philadelphia.
It is hard to really assess the impact of this extraordinary visit of our Holy Father to us this week – a week that included a speech before the U.S. Congress, the first-ever canonization of saint on our soil, a speech before the United Nations, a visit to the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, visits to schools and shelters and churches, cathedrals, basilicas and yes, Madison Square Garden. We prayed, we sang, we listened. And, hopefully, we have grown closer God, closer to our Church, closer to our Pope and closer to one another.
I was lucky enough to be present at both the Evening Prayer Service at St. Patrick’s on Thursday night and the Mass at Madison Square Garden on Friday night and one of my favorite quotes of the week came from our own Cardinal Dolan who said something very simple, but something that captured the excitement of this week. He said, “At each and every Mass we pray the words, ‘For Francis OUR Pope. And here you are!’”
We know that this papacy of Francis has been a papacy of gestures. He has not been a Pope of mere theological or doctrinal teaching. He has been someone who walks the walk. He doesn’t merely speak. He acts. The little Fiat he has been driven in through the U.S. speaks volumes of this. We have a humble and simple Holy Father who comes to us. And, as powerful as his words are, his actions touch the very depths of our hearts.
What is Pope Francis trying to tell us, trying to teach us? I think it is as simple as this – the Gospel can be lived. The Gospel must be lived. For those of us who come to Church each week, who were baptized in the waters of new life, who name ourselves believers and followers of Jesus – all of that must be made evident in the way we live, in the way we act. This is what we see in our Pope. This is what he hopes we will imitate in our world.
On Friday at Mass he said, “Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city. A hope which frees us from empty ‘connections’, from abstract analyses, or sensationalist routines. A hope which is unafraid of involvement, which acts as a leaven wherever we happen to live and work. A hope which makes us see, even in the midst of smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city.”
My friends, Jesus still walks our streets. What a powerful thought. What a powerful hope. Our world, our reality can be profoundly different if we choose to be the same presence of Christ that we see radiated in the person of Pope Francis. It is what each of us is called to. It is what the Holy Father came to our city to say to us – to you and to me. To be the Jesus that walks these streets. He came to say, as in my corny joke, "You be Jesus!"
He said, “Jesus keeps telling his disciples to go, to go out. He urges them to go out and meet others where they really are, not where we think they should be. Go out and proclaim this joy which is for all the people. No one or anything can separate us from his Love. Go out and proclaim, go out and show that God is in your midst as a merciful Father who himself goes out, morning and evening, to see if his son has returned home and, as soon as he sees him coming, runs out to embrace him. Go out to others and share the good news that God, our Father, walks at our side. He frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness and selfishness, and brings us to the school of encounter. He removes us from the fray of competition and self-absorption, and he opens before us the path of peace. That peace which is born of accepting others, that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters. God is living in our cities. The Church is living in our cities, and she wants to be like yeast in the dough. She wants to relate to everyone, to stand at everyone’s side, as she proclaims the marvels of the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace.”
My brothers and sisters, Francis OUR Pope was here. Let us have the courage to live the Christian lives that he calls forth from us. Let us be the Church that is alive in our city! Let us be the Jesus that is walking in our streets! You be Jesus!
May the Lord give you peace!