I am pretty sure every blogger in the world who comments on things of faith will be blogging today, the day after the new pope was elected. I can honestly say that I, too, am excited and hopeful. Pope Francis seems, at the outset, to be a humble man and a man of the people. His actions in the past show us he is concerned for his flock and that he believes in all the eternal truths Our Lord has taught us. He also believes that he neither has the right, nor the authority, to change these truths. Praise be to God!!! In addition to that, us Byzantine Catholics are saying a little prayer of thanksgiving because this Pope is bi-ritual with the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and so he understands our Divine Liturgy, our cultures, and our need to keep our eastern-rite Churches intact. Several Orthodox Bishops and Abbots have also expressed their joy at his election and think it bodes well for the Church in the world. So as much as I would love to wax on about all of this, I think it is a little early in his pontificate to opine to overly much. We can all research on the internet the fun facts of his past. And boy oh boy, both the nay-sayers and those who support him, are heating up the wires, sending and posting and giving their opinions…we certainly do not need more posts about it. In regards to Pope Francis, I will say just this:
I am also struggling with change in my own backyard, and concerns about the future, in my little world. It is interesting for me – mostly because I think like this anyway – but when we relocated up here, we got and stayed, lost. Well, “directionally challenged.” We had a rough time discerning east and west, let alone north and south! We did not know where any churches were located, and even when we found them, we had no idea where our hotel was, in relation to them. So we opted to attend Christmas Mass (Latin Rite – we could not find anything Byzantine at the time) at the Cathedral downtown. Google Maps led the way (I am so glad my husband opted to turn that woman’s voice off, on his phone…she was usually incorrect and so annoying to listen to)!! Our snowy journey was something, as we truly got lost, but finally, as we were walking inside the House of God, we did a sharp intake of our breath, because it was amazing. My heart sang, just looking at the amazing carved doors, and then the sights, smells, and sounds enveloped us sojourners. We entered and were pretty much blown away by the sheer size (our former parish was a teeny, tiny, little church in a very poor section of town!!!) and the beauty. There was music playing and the acoustics were incredible. We found seats, luckily enough, and prepared for Mass. The music began, the choir was exulting our God, and my heart was beating so loudly in joyous peace…and when the Bishop processed in, my eyes teared up. It was traditional music, nothing funny going on, and the sound, incense, and circumstance were so comforting to strangers, so new in town. The interesting part of our experience was when the Bishop offered his homily, we discovered he had arrived, brand new to this diocese, on the same day we had arrived in town. He spoke to the journey of Christ, in the womb of His Mother, on the back of a donkey. He felt like he was a traveler in a strange place and was having difficulty finding his footing. I just wept….because I felt exactly the same way. My husband and I shared glances, and held hands. His words of encouragement and assurance went a long way in making our first Christmas here special. When we relocated, we were staying in a one-roomed hotel “suite” with our son, a dog, a very scared cat, and a stove that set off the alarms whenever we tried to cook anything. The Bishop welcomed all of us and gave us peace on Christmas Day. After Mass we toured the Cathedral, remarking at its beauty. The side chapel was an amazing Christmas Creche with these incredible, almost life-sized statues. It was amazing. And the Bishop waited on the stairs, until the very last person left the Church, personally greeting every, single one. What a blessing it was for us!
The message to me, even almost 3 years later, is that we are all on a journey. The Pope moved his two bags of clothes from a priest’s hostel to the Vatican this morning; he just started an amazing journey, one he began as a seminarian and priest and is now the Vicar of Christ. We are packing up to relocate, sometime soon, and preparing to make our way to our new home. The Pope has, quite literally, the weight of 2 billion souls on his shoulders. (I pray it does not age him too soon). My husband has the weight of his family on his shoulders and today, well, today he is concerned. In that consternation of his, though, lies an important lesson. God tells us over and over again that he will not abandon us. He promised us He would be with us “until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) I believe in His promises, and I claim them for myself, and my family. When we are faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, I believe that is when we cling ferociously to our faith. When the future, our pathway, is a little blurry, that is when we reach for the Hand of Christ to guide us and be our strength.
Reading Elder Thaddeus’ book has been such a blessing to me. I can now easily slip into the Jesus Prayer, and once again find that same comfort and love of God, even when I am near to “loosing it.” (Inhale) “Jesus Son of God (exhale) have mercy on me, a sinner.” There are also so many scripture verses wherein Christ promises us that He will not leave us, and that our faith in Him is enough. He will suffice (“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2Cor 12:19).
So I choose to not panic, yet, but to remain faithful to my God and the promises He made me. I cannot loose sight of the fact that God is MY God. He created the world for little, old, ME. His Son died on the cross for ME. And He would have done it all, had I been the sole creation of His. What an awesome God! This is a refrain from one of my favorite songs to sing along to while I am driving:
“Our God (our God) is an awesome God
He reigns (He reigns) from heaven above
With wisdom (with wisdom) pow’r and love
our God is an awesome God.”
With a new Pope in the Vatican, renewed hope in the future of the Church, and with a renewed vigor, I choose to claim these awesome properties of God and I also refuse to allow myself to panic. The Catholic author, Peter Kreeft, speaks about how it will be when we stand before the Throne of God, naked as the day we were born, clinging to a suitcase. God will ask us what we are carrying around and we will tell Him we are clinging to our past sins, our cares, and our worries. Then God will tell us that it is not He, Our Lord, who clings to these things, but it is us…we cannot “let go and let God.” When we give our sins to God, we are nailing them to the Cross with Christ and He is taking on the suffering due to us. We cannot take that action back; that sin, once confessed, is now His burden. Similarly, when we give Christ our worries and our cares, and we tell Him we trust in His Will for our lives, we need to rest in that. We need to let them go and allow God to work in our lives. And that is where our free will always snags us…I know it snags me. And I have to work at my trust. When we ask a friend for help, as I have stated before, we trust our friend to help us and take care of us, because our friend loves us. How much more does Our God love us? I pray that I will not even have need of a suitcase before the Throne of God, that I will have completely trusted Him “in all things.” (Psalm 62:8)
A friend spent the weekend with us this past week and she and I had our coffee, were sitting on the couches, and chatting about life, our children, our spouses, the future…everything we could cram into the short time we had to spend together. We have been friends for about 22 years now and we share pretty much everything about our lives with each other. I started to share my visit with my firstborn grandson, that I had back in January. And I started to just cry and cry. Because when I met my grandson (the first time he was just 5 or so weeks old…slept most of the time) in January, and we bonded, I came to finally understand the kind of love Christ has for me. I would do anything for that child. And I have no expectation of anything in return…it is completely unrequited at this point and I genuinely don’t care. He could not, maybe, even look at me, and to just be in the room with him would be enough for me. To hear his voice, watch him play, and see his smile; it is enough for me. And I have never, ever, felt a love like that – ever. I cry now as I type this. The love I feel for him has become a motivator in my life. And I was blessed to have this revealed to me by a God who loves me, just like that; and every one of His Children. And when He hung on that Cross, with my sins added to His burden, He did that willingly and out of love. And when He told me that I could give Him my troubles and my cares, He did that out of love, too. Just as I would do anything for my grandson, Christ will do that overwhelmingly for me. And I trust in that love. So I lay my worries at His feet; at His altar I pour my heart out to Him. And He takes all of it on Himself. When these times get troubled, that is when I rely on Him. And so I am choosing today to rest in His care, in His promises, and allow His will to work in our lives. God will never leave us; He promised.