A THOUGHT AFTER THE PAPAL VISIT.
I am sure that many of us are still reminiscing and reflecting on the historic visit of Pope Benedict XVI to England and Scotland. It was so obvious that the people who live here did not leave a stone unturned in terms of welcome, rejoicing and celebrating. The media coverage was inspiring and reverend.I had the privilege of joining Sister Ann Cunningham at the gathering at St. Mary’s College Twickenham where Pope Benedict met representatives of those organisations involved in Catholic Education. Naturally, these included many Religious whose Congregations have been pioneering education for many years, not only in these isles but all over the world.
Yes, the occasion was one of great joy for me personally, not only because it was an opportunity to hear and see the Pope in this context but especially to meet with the many Religious whose paths I have crossed over the years. The friendship and sheer joy of meeting each other is a memory that will stay with me for a long time to come.
However, I must admit that to me, Religious men and women did not have a high profile during this visit. This opinion has been endorsed by comments from many others. It was in reflecting on this with some sadness that I came to the following reflection. Strangely, and I do not know where it came from, but the following reflection, inspired by Luke’s story of the ‘Prodigal’ son and the ‘dutiful ‘son, came to mind. Luke tells us that ‘the prodigal’ son, having gone astray and suffered much, ‘came home to himself’ and returned to his father’s house. In this story too, the father ‘came home to himself’ in a new way, not only as the compassionate, loving father of a ‘prodigal’ son but as an understanding, loving father to a discontented ‘dutiful’ son. What is the relevance of this in the context of the papal visit?
First and foremost for us as Religious women and men, we too need to ‘come home to ourselves.’ We need to reclaim our prophetic vocation as Religious to be gospel women and men on the margins of society. Do we need affirmation from the leaders of our Church? It would be good to receive it, but no. Do we need to affirm and support each other? I would say a definite ‘yes’. Do we need preferential treatment? The answer has to be ‘no.’ If we are to be with the poor of Yahweh, on the margins of society, then we need to come home to ourselves as people who have given their lives so that others may come home to their true value and worth as children of God.
I felt passionate for my vocation once again, as this reflection took hold of me. I believe that we as Religious together, need to ‘come home’ to ourselves more proactively by a deeper appreciation of our vocation no matter what stage of life we are at. There is no stage of life, in the eyes of God, more important than the other. I believe that we are called to greater collaboration and connectedness with each other. Let us enter into our ‘smallness’ with zeal and a new enthusiasm rather than lamenting our perceived diminishment.
In seeing the great effort that people made to gather together on the occasion of the Pope’s visit, I had another thought. I saw the visit as an expression of how people in general and the Church in particular is called to ‘come home to itself’. The shadow of sexual abuse was there and it was not passed over but it did not overshadow the opportunity that the Church had to ‘come home to itself.’ The community of the people of God who turned out for a common purpose, regardless of their status, their standing in the Church, their religion their sinfulness, was for me, a symbol of God’s grace, working through God’s people. It was a symbol of that grace which calls us all ‘to come home to ourselves’ and to allow others ‘to come home to themselves’ as people who are made in the image and likeness of God and who are loved with intensity and compassion.
The Pope during his event packed schedule, met with many people at different venues and in various categories. As a vulnerable man of 83, with such responsibility, I believe he came ‘home to himself’ in a new way as he showed his affection for the people in so many ways. As a compassionate father, he met with some victims of sexual abuse. I do not know whether he did so or not but what if he met with some of the perpetrators? In looking into the eyes of all people, Jesus’ invitation to us all is: ‘come home to yourself’, ‘come home’ to your Father’s house, to the God who loves you and embraces you.
This is one of the reflections that came to me as a result of The Papal visit.