About a year ago this week, this man began his humble request for our prayers.
For the past year or so, when people around me start talking about Pope Francis, they often address their words to me! It's not because I'm the number one authority on Papal matters. Nor is it even because I'm the one who follows him the most; these days when I limit my intake of what the Pope is doing to daily two-minute sound bites from the Vatican. This is contrasted with the early months of his papacy when I would scrutinize every Angelus prayer, every address to foreign dignitaries, every moment in the man's day. I think people share with me their thoughts and comments about the pope because they know it makes me happy to talk about him. They also know that whatever they say, I'll probably have "some input".
Maybe that does make me an authority on him, but I still don't feel that way. I'm just a guy who is happy to see some of the stuff that he’s doing at the Vatican. I've also been known to glow a little when yet another person who wouldn't usually speak or write about the Church starts to gush excitedly about him. Finally, I've even learned to train my eye not to read certain news articles from the secular media which often speak about Francis from the perspective of their own (limited) expectations and hopes for him.
During this Lenten season, I have reconnected a little with my enthusiasm for this Pope. Keeping with tradition, my experience of Lent has been a source of both great hope and continuing frustration. The hopes come from my new environment, the Villa Saint-Martin in Montreal, and the various ministries it supports. Mostly, I've been benefiting from being surrounded by older priests who have a beautiful way of speaking about the experience of journeying which we're called to during this season.
These spiritual journeys are especially visible in spiritual direction. I remember one experience particularly. The person I directed was in deep desolation. He had not experienced many consoling prayers for the past few years and was rather hard on himself about his shortcomings: what he saw as his inability to live up to his call to holiness. Thankfully, the Spirit was hard at work in him during his time with me and I got to witness firsthand the richness of his struggles, growth, and return to consolation. He came to me with these rich prayers captured by incredibly poetic reflections on his intimacy with Christ, Mary, and with God. By the end of our time together he wasn't speaking about renewal but about momentum (a terrible translation of the French word, 'élan' which might be better translated as 'thrust,' though even this word is a little strong!). His was in fact a burning desire to get back into the world with all the challenges that lay ahead.
As powerful as it was for me to witness this man's transformation, I share his desolation, too. To paraphrase a scripture passage that Adam Hincks quoted in his last entry (Romans 7:15, 18b-19), I know the good that I am called to do, but often fall short of living up to that call. This is exactly the desolation my directee had; and it's one that I slip into quite easily. That would be the frustration I spoke of: this never ending cycle of spiritual growth clashing with other unhealthy attachments in my life.
This is where Pope Francis comes in. Since December of 2013, I have been blogging about Evangelii Gaudium. Despite being a little more irregular in my blogging these days, my discovery of the joy he is calling us to deepens every week. There is so much that I am still unsure of in my faith journey; so much disorientation. If I were to share these feelings with the pope, he would no doubt say, "you too, eh?" Case in point, no. 280 From Evangelii Gaudium.
It is true that this trust in the unseen can cause us to feel disoriented: it is like being plunged into the deep and not knowing what we will find. I myself have frequently experienced this. Yet there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail… The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and place. This is what it means to be mysteriously fruitful!
This freedom that Adam spoke of his in last entry, and which the Pope speaks of here, is something I'm learning to embrace a little more in this Lenten season; though I know I still have a long ways to go! All I can do is keep my eye on the joy of the Gospels and continue walking. May that freedom fill each one of our journeys: so that we each come to a deeper intimacy with God and a greater love for all humanity!