Walking the walk
Pope-apalooza is underway here in the states.
For the nation’s more than 66 million Catholics (a number from Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) Pope Francis’ visit assuredly stirs some level of excitement. Many non-Catholics and even those us with no religious affiliation, myself included, also are watching and reading with interest that other world leaders (religious, political or other) fail to generate. Seriously, how many of us are regularly checking in on China President Xi Jinping’s current trip?
Francis has generated plenty of buzz for his modest and humble nature, as well as his comments on some contentious societal issues. All of this has fed into the frenzy surrounding his visit to the states. For many, he has transcended religion.
I have a complicated relationship with religion — one that spans most of my life. I was raised Roman Catholic and attended Catholic school up until college. At one point early, very early, in life I proclaimed that I wanted to be a priest. In hindsight, that may have been just as much about wanting to wear colorful robes as it was wanting to help others.
Like so many people, my bond with the church grew weaker over time. I remember sitting in mass one day after our parish had completed a massive renovation. It was essentially a brand new building, with a brand new walk-in baptismal font in the shape of a large cross. My brothers and I joked that it was a hot tub because it was large enough to seat four people comfortably and the holy water never seemed to be cold.
Flat-screen televisions were installed for those sitting in the nosebleeds. The sanctuary was decked out with candles and flowers, the types of which varied depending on the season.
As the collection basket went around, person after person dropped either a parish-distributed envelope — a way to signify those who had truly committed to the church — or cash into the basket. I knew, or knew of, many of those people. They were parents of classmates, and some I would realize later in life had sacrificed some of life’s amenities in order to pay thousands of dollars a year in tuition. That issue confused me given the seeming hypocrisy in this particular parish’s decision not to forgo the bells and whistles — or big screen televisions.
Looking back, it was one person who managed to stave off my inevitable mutiny from the Catholic faith, and eventually religion entirely. It was my seventh and eighth grade religion teacher, Brother Ed. Brother Ed lived in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi, the saint who devoted himself to a life of poverty. Brother Ed did not simply talk the talk, he walked the walked, and I respected him for it and still do even though I have not belonged to the church for years.
For the record, I mention my disassociation with Catholicism and organized religion in general not to disparage those beliefs. I know too many people who do too many kind acts and cite their faith as their main motivating force to do so. It’s simply not for me.
The same selflessness that Brother Ed exemplified has sparked my intrigue in Pope Francis, as it has for others around the world. His rejection of certain lavish amenities is noble and a change from his predecessor. His trip to the U.S. is said to include a planned lunch with homeless people after making an address on Capitol Hill. A Sept. 14 Tweet from the Pope’s Twitter account — yes, there is a papal twitter account — read: “God loves the lowly. When we live humbly, he takes our small efforts and creates great things.”
In an age where our society seems to idolize indulgent behavior and braggadocious celebrities (Trump reference), Francis is a refreshing example of the most admirable aspects of faith. It’s admirable enough to get this non-believer to pay attention, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Ryan Hoffman is editor of The Citizen Telegram. He can be reached at 970-685-2103 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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