Last week, I had the opportunity to be one of thousands of people who got to see Pope Francis up close. It was an incredible experience on multiple levels. But before I go any further, it's important for me to be clear about something.
I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school my whole life where religion class was a yearly requirement and you never missed a Sunday mass. My mom is very devout in her faith, which carried her after my parents divorced years ago. It was her rock, still is her rock. She helped me build my foundation. But my rock is simply Christ. He is the solid rock I stand on. Some Catholics might say I've become Protestant, but I don't identify with a particular religion. I believe I am a child of God and daughter of the One True King. I am a Christ follower. I walk the Jesus way. I am saved by grace and I turn each day to the Bible and depend on my relationship with God through the Holy Spirit.
I did not go out there for any reason other than I admire the man Pope Francis is. He carries the title of Pope but he doesn't pretend to be above anyone. He walks humbly, even wearing his pontiff attire. I am drawn to people who have an unshakable, humble and outward demonstration of a living walk with God the Father. I go see people speak who demonstrate this because I want to be in the presence of people I believe to be - not God our father - but channels for the Holy Spirit. This is why I went to see him. I fully respect the Catholic religion I grew up in and anyone who lives out the Catholic faith. I am only offering the experience I had as one who has distanced myself from the religion, and taken a different walk to deepen my faith.
I went there because I saw that he was being like Jesus, not because I believe he is the ultimate representation of God on earth. He is a human being and the leader of the Catholic Church. I don't put him on a pedestal and from what I see, that's not what he wants. He doesn’t want to be consumed with pomp and circumstance, surrounded by politicians or theologians. He wants to be a voice and hope for the broken and hurting people who need Jesus.
I've said this before but I was seriously broken and in need of Jesus. It didn't matter that I had the pedigree of Catholic schools and political family background, or how successful I was in my own career. What mattered was that I was falling apart on the inside and the only one who could fix that was Jesus. I spent a lot of years wondering why he was up there, not down here. So when I hit my bottom and the Holy Spirit came into my heart, it changed my life from the inside out. I didn't do that out of some defiant self-will. I didn't do that at all. All I did was receive. I was desperate to receive a love greater than anything I'd ever known.
Receiving the free gift is not easy when you think you aren't worthy. But that is God's grace. That's why he died on the cross. He meets you at your worst and pulls you out of your darkest place. This Pope is a living, breathing example of that love that God has for all of us. He is reaching out with open arms just like Jesus did when he walked the earth.
What I see in him is hope and what it brings out in me is courage. It takes courage to believe. It takes courage to walk by faith and I've heard many people say, "There is something about this guy that makes me want to believe more," and that to me is an incredible thing. In fact, I didn't realize until I got home that seeing the Pope did exactly that for me. When I got home and I was spending time at the dinner table with my husband telling stories, all of a sudden I got choked up and wasn't sure why. Then the words came. "This trip showed my I have courage." It seemed to simple but it was the moment I realized why God may have put me there. Seeing him reach the broken with realness, no matter what others might say he needed to do brought me so much hope. He's in a role where he's expected to be all these things, but he's just being himself. He's letting the Lord lead Him to where he's supposed to be. That is love right there. That is the love of Christ.
This verse was speaking me leading up to and even now after my experience and I believe it to be true. In fact, it’s stated in a song by the band, “For King and Country” called Proof of your Love. It’s from 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, the Message version (and you can watch the music video at the bottom of the page).
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s word with power revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and a say to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and I what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
I hear this song and I think of his trip. Although some political people may get frustrated with some of his decisions or viewpoints, I don't believe God sent him here to primarily be a diplomat, but Ambassador for Christ - like anyone of us who carries the love of Christ is to be.
30th Street Station
Now I'd like to tell you about my experience. Mom and I started the day at 30th Street Station. The relevance of this was huge. 30th street is where I basically grew up. It was my second home as I lived "in between two worlds" traveling back and forth twice a month to visit my Dad. A lot of times it was the place I felt the most secure because it felt like my middle ground. As mom and I walked towards the main concourse, (which mind you is huge - 135ft wide and 95 foot ceilings) I shared with her what this place meant to me. I showed her the escalator I stood at waiting for my Dad and the ticket counter. I turned around and she said, "Aw, is that where you used to go with your Daddy?" and gave me a hug. I can't tell you the power of that moment.
What I can tell you is that I had an instant moment of walking back through time to when I was little Meredith. But this time I was all grown up with Mom on my arm and Dad gone from this earth. It was a living example of me realizing how much I've grown up, how I struggled for so long with that little girl meredith who felt so "in between" but now I am far from it. Today I'm a wife, a stepmom and above all God's daughter. I am so blessed.
Mom and I walked out the front door and continued our journey down Market Street. This road is one that we used to run half-marathons together. Mom clocked many miles during her years of marathon running. We were always running. Running to run from the pain, to free ourselves from the burden of the pain and to escape. Now here we were walking hoping our feet would carry us for the day. Oh, how times change especially since at one point we both would have been dying to just run it. Here we knew we were weak. It was pretty beautiful. On the Parkway we stood most of the day waiting for the Pope to arrive and then we finally saw him.
The Papal Mass on on the Parkway
When it came time for Mass, Mom and I moved over to the center of the parkway so she could see the altar in front of the Philly Art Museum. I was amazed at how much my faith had changed specifically in my passion for the Word. I wanted to hear the passages they’d chosen and the Pope give a sermon.
It was so powerful. Here is an excerpt. Go and read the whole context if you have the chance here: http://abcnews.go.com/US/pope-francis-holds-final-mass-philadelphias-benjamin-franklin/story?id=34080571
“Our Father will not be outdone in generosity and he continues to scatter seeds. He scatters the seeds of his presence in our world, for “love consists in this, not that we have loved God but that he loved us” first (1 Jn 4:10). That love gives us a profound certainty: we are sought by God; he waits for us. It is this confidence which makes disciples encourage, support and nurture the good things happening all around them. God wants all his children to take part in the feast of the Gospel. Jesus says, “Do not hold back anything that is good, instead help it to grow!” To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not “part of our group”, who are not “like us”, is a dangerous temptation. Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith!
Faith opens a “window” to the presence and working of the Spirit.”
Shortly after Pope Francis delivered this Homily, the eucharistic ministers started walking down the parkway with yellow and white umbrellas to distribute communion. As it came to the spot we were my Mom gave me the look. I knew she wasn’t comfortable with me going to communion.
If you aren’t familiar with the Catholic faith, they believe unless you are an active participant in the church, you can’t go. I am not. I am a Christian. But I don’t practice a religion. I go to church but my foundation is in the living Word and my personal relationship with God.
Prepared for this in the back of my mind, I wasn’t resistant because I know no matter what -God loves me.
And it happened once before. My Mom didn’t want me to go and out of respect I stayed in the pew. What’s funny is that moment just a year or so ago in the pew was a key moment in my faith walk because it helped me let go of my Mom’s faith and secure my own in Christ. So this time, as she walked away I stood strong RESTING in the powerful love of God I’d come to know in my life and completely filled with the Holy Spirit.
I can’t express to you the peace I had in that moment - but it was tangible. Surrounded by thousands of Catholics on the parkway walking towards communion I stood. Still. I stood - strong. Not in myself, but in Him.
Let me tell you, there is no other force on the earth that could have given me that peace in that moment. That moment made me realize that I wasn’t little Meredith anymore who felt “not good enough.” I was a long way from being that little overweight girl whose parents got divorced, and felt ashamed and unknown by God because of what had happened.
This time - I was the daughter of God, comfortable in her own skin knowing - no matter what - her worth is in Christ. It wasn’t something I had to will myself to believe.I just knew in the depths of my soul. When Mom returned from communion I turned around and said, “Mom, like I said before - that’s not who my God is. He loves me no matter what, no matter whether I go to your communion service or not. He loves me.” And I turned around, not angry at my mom for her beliefs but strong in my own convictions. It was another moment where I realized my faith was stronger than I even realized and I could thank my Mom for giving me that foundation in her own.
Why do I tell you all this? I tell you because I know there are many who feel far from the church or far from God and this is to show you that we all have different walks and ways to rest in the love of the Lord. But we must know - it is there. He came so that we could have life and have it abundantly.
I hope you will come to my blog again tomorrow as I’m going to post one titled, “The 10 Reasons I Love this Pope.” Part I was about my experience. Part II is about Him and what I believe we can experience through his example.