Sunday, May 31, 2009

4-27-2008: 6th Easter (A)

Acts of the Apostles 8:5-8,14-17/Psalm 66/1Peter 3:15-18/John 14:15-21
Perhaps the pope’s given name should be Philip since, as the first reading says of Philip today, he went to the city and proclaimed the Christ to them and with one accord the crowds paid attention to what was said by him.

Pope Benedict seems, unexpectedly, to have made a very good impression on New Yorkers. In contrast to his predecessor, Benedict lacks that super-star persona; and his German accent, rich in sibilants, requires the listener to pay a more costly attention. His message -- obedience to the truth discovered through the Church – is not an easy one to swallow; and, no doubt, few will be quick to obey whatever truth the Church might proclaim.

Marshall McLuhan’s famed adage seems apropos here: The medium is the message. When the messenger is so in communion with his message, he demands attention – even if he lacks charisma and his accent causes distraction. Integrity, that symbiosis of the messenger with the message, creates a charisma all its own. Benedict’s shyness, his humble demeanor, weighed down by the enormity of his office (not to mention his wardrobe) is perceived as authentic; and authenticity is always attractive. Although the pope’s obvious erudition is impressive, people don’t change their ways for theology’s sake. Books, even the Good Book, cannot convince the way personal example does.

What came through so powerfully in the papal visit to America was the truth that each person can embrace his destiny, engage his mission in life, with humility and grace. And when someone does, all kinds of surprises emerge. I was especially moved by the Secret Service agent who saw a mom pushing her son’s wheelchair outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I don’t know what possessed the agent to ask the woman her story; but he did. The woman told him her son hadmuscular dystrophy and they had traveled across country to see the pope. They came out of respect and, yes, seeking a miracle too. She had no ticket to enter the cathedral. So the agent lifted the boy from his wheelchair and brought him into the cathedral where he placed him on the end of a pew in the rear of the church. And it was to that place the pope came and touched the crippled boy. A miracle happened there – whether or not the boy is ever cured of his disease. And the photo, that medium of communication, indeed became the message: we are our brother’s keeper.

Till now, shyness seemed the one trait a pope shouldn’t have; a trait frowned upon by those seeking to practice a more muscular, American Christianity. But God indeed confounds us by his grace when, last week, the shy pope enamored boisterous New York, making a security guard let down his armor and the rest of us New Yorkers ask (without being facetious at all): what did he say?

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