On his recent visit to the United States, Pope Francis showed a different attitude and called us to consider how we might adopt it into our lives. To his security guards dismay, I’m sure, the Holy Father had no qualms about responding to the moment. If he spotted a child, a disabled person, or someone who caught his attention, he simply stopped his journey and recognized him or her with his care, a short conversation, and a gesture of affection. He didn’t allow the schedule, the plan or the rules to prevent him from personally ministering to those in need in some way. The Holy Father places people first in the Church’s mode of service, and God first in its reason to serve. We get to God by serving others, for it is in our authentically human needs that we discover the image of God incarnate. These don’t fit a set pattern of responses day after day. Some need physical support food, clothing, shelter, medical care some need more spiritual and psychological care companionship, affection, education, compassion, prayer. The works of mercy are both corporal and spiritual, but they are never routine and anonymous.
Robots can’t be disciples of the Lord Jesus. They can’t meet people as human beings, but only as objects of their assigned tasks. Disciples encounter others as fellow followers, looking for the God who brings meaning and purpose to their lives. The Church is the place where a culture for such encounters can be fostered and grow, so that one by one and multiplied by many, the atmosphere among people changes from mindless habits and routines to graced relationships, unique in their character but united in their shared roots in the Body of Christ.
Pope Francis gave us a glimpse of this vision of the Church. He challenged us to begin to build it each day by changing our routine ways of connecting to each other. Instead of thinking we know what others are going through, listen to them. Instead of assuming we know their point of view, talk to them and learn it. Instead of thinking the worst, give them the benefit of the doubt to show us something good. This isn’t easy. Routines are easy. Holy encounters call us to be thoughtful, open and generous towards each other, putting aside our egos and self-interest, our ambitions and anxieties to give grace a chance to work its transforming effects.
Cats can’t do that. They have to settle for being creatures of habit who live their days contented. We look for more from our lives, and it is possible. Not on our own, but sharing a common vision of God’s love in our midst and working together to embody that vision when an how we meet others, a better world can unfold. Maybe we can’t teach an old cat like Baxter new tricks. He is set in his ways. But Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and He invites us to try something different. We have nothing to lose, but new life to gain, if we follow in faith.