I wish Pope Francis could see Oklahoma … and Colorado … and Big Bend. I wish he had time to take a road trip along the long stretches of lonely road that crisscross this country. I wish he could meet the good people who are the real America.
As he noted in his address at St. Matthews this morning, he is from a big country, too. But America is such a sweep of a nation. I am almost as many miles from Pope Francis as London is from Cairo; and yet we are both in the USA.
It’s sad that his entire trip will be confined to a few cities on the East Coast. Not that there is anything wrong with those cities. It’s just that they do not reflect the whole of America; not anymore than a salad, no matter how tasty, reflects the steak that is to come.
Most of Pope Francis’ time here will be spent with priests and politicians. That is not exactly representative of the whole of the American people.
I thought about this early this morning, while I drove my mother to adult day care. I drove part of the way behind a school bus, picking up kids. I passed a woman, walking her dog, and a man out for his morning jog. The flowers were in bloom. The sun peeked over the rim of the prairie with its good morning light.
I saw all this, and I thought, America really is beautiful. The peace and security of this morning drive must seem like an unattainable dream to many people in the world.
Here are 5 things that I hope Pope Francis can somehow understand about us.
1. The incredible goodness of the American people. If I have a flat tire, I know that it’s just a matter of minutes before some kind man pulls over to change it for me. People open the door for Mama and me. They never grow impatient as she navigates haltingly with her walker. Americans give money to people in need all over the world. I’ve learned from many years of living in tornado country that the true “first responders” in America are your neighbors, that they will be digging you out as soon as the storm passes. If you are injured, they’ll find ways to get you to help before the ambulances turn over their engines.
2. The vast freedom we have. My hairdresser grew up in Viet Nam before the fall into Communism. She regales me with how much she loves the wonderful freedom of this country. “You can live your life as you choose,” she tells me. We are so free here. I think we take that for granted.
3. The deep faith of the American people. If all you know about America is what you see on the news and the internet, then you mostly know lies. Jesus Christ is not, in any way, “irrelevant” in this country. That is just blather from blatherers who wish it was so. In truth and in fact, everywhere and anywhere you go in America, you will encounter beautiful people of faith who begin and end their days with prayer, who live their lives in trust of Him.
4. The extent to which Christians, and Christianity itself, are being bashed, reviled and bullied by uncouth and uncivil unbelievers. We need leadership and support from our Church in dealing with this.
5. The stressed lives that Americans live. It is too easy for people who don’t live here to focus on our “wealth” and miss the stresses and fears that the pain, strain and poverty the destruction of the family has brought into ordinary people’s lives. Single mothers peddle as fast as they can to keep their families on track. Absentee fathers miss the only part of life that matters. And children grow up, cut to ribbons emotionally and unable to bond properly with spouses of their own when they reach adulthood. I hope that the upcoming Synod on the Family will develop ministries within the Church to heal families and support them so that they don’t break in the first place.
Americans are good, free and, in many ways, broken by the excesses we have heaped on ourselves with our freedom. We need the one thing that can heal us, and that is the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
My wish is that Pope Francis sees the goodness, faithfulness and woundedness of the American people. He is our shepherd. We need him to guide us through these times.