At St. Patrick’s Church, where he met with the homeless and those at Catholic Charities who care for them, the Holy Father began by invoking St. Joseph, “a person whom I love, someone who is, and has been, very important throughout my life. He has been a support and an inspiration. He is the one I go to whenever I am ‘in a fix’.” It is rare that we hear anyone invoke someone who lived two thousand years ago with such intimacy, but the pope was only getting started.
He reflected on the circumstances of Jesus’ birth – “The Bible is very clear about this: there was no room for them. I can imagine Joseph, with his wife about to have a child, with no shelter, no home, no place to stay. The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person.” – and asked his audience if they did not still ask those questions about themselves or their brothers and sisters in the Lord. Who talks like this in American public life? The pope did not distinguish between the “deserving poor” and the rest. “In the face of unjust and painful situations, faith brings us the light which scatters the darkness,” Francis said. “As it did for Joseph, faith makes us open to the quiet presence of God at every moment of our lives, in every person and in every situation. God is present in every one of you, in each one of us. We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing. There are many unjust situations, but we know that God is suffering with us, experiencing them at our side. He does not abandon us.”
This talk will not get the coverage that the pope’s address to Congress received. But, I suspect the images of him with the homeless at Catholic Charities will reverberate, and every pastor in the land should copy and distribute his remarks at St. Patrick’s in their parish bulletins. We have been reading from the Epistle of St. James the last few Sundays, and the pope’s linkage of faith with a heart that does not accept nor grow indifferent to suffering and injustice is the best homily you are going to hear on the themes that St. James articulates.
The pope had the option of staying on Capitol Hill and having a fancy luncheon with the politicians and the powerful. Like Jesus, he chose to seek out the powerless and the poor. Like Jesus, he seemed to be more joyful at the latter destination. Can we U.S. Catholics say the same about ourselves?