Pope Francis at Madison Square Garden

This article appears in the Francis in the United States feature series. View the full series.

At Madison Square Garden, the Holy Father gave a two paragraph spiritual analysis of life in a modern city. This son of Buenos Aires showed he was paying attention all those years:

Living in a big city is not always easy.  A multicultural context presents many complex challenges.  Yet big cities are a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences.  In the variety of its languages, costumes and cuisine.  Big cities bring together all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life, wherever we may be.  

But big cities also conceal the faces of all those people who don’t appear to belong, or are second class citizens.  In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath “the rapid pace of change”, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no “right” to be there, no right to be part of the city.  They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly.  These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity.  They become part of an urban landscape which is more and more taken for granted, in our eyes, and especially in our hearts.

We Christians walk by faith, not by sight, and our path is illumined by the light of Christ. The Holy Father was preaching on those words we know so well from Advent and from Handel’s “Messiah”: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” The Holy Father spoke about the titles Isaiah gave to God: Wonderful Counselor, The Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of these, Pope Francis’ comments on the Everlasting Father seem especially noteworthy as the Church prepares for next month’s synod on the family. He said:

The Everlasting Father.  No one or anything can separate us from his Love.  Go out and proclaim, go out and show that God is in your midst as a merciful Father who himself goes out, morning and evening, to see if his son has returned home and, as soon as he sees him coming, runs out to embrace him.  An embrace which wants to take up, purify and elevate the dignity of his children.  A Father who, in his embrace, is “glad tidings to the poor, healing to the afflicted, liberty to captives, comfort to those who mourn” (Is 61:1-2).

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The ecclesiastical opposition to Pope Francis, well represented in the Province of New York, has behaved precisely like the older son in the story of the Prodigal, and Pope Francis was gently reminding the bishops, and all of us, that God rejoices most at the conversion of sinners, not the comforts of the pious.

I mentioned this in regard to the sermon Pope Francis preached at Mass in Washington on Wednesday. His sermons are not dense like Pope Benedict’s sermons were, but they are intense. Indeed, to watch Pope Francis celebrate Mass is to see someone who is clearly in a very focused prayer. There is no ostentation. But, watch his face when he looks at the crucifix when he incenses it at the beginning of Mass. Watch his face when he lifts up the bread and the chalice. His sermons have that same intensity yet they are entirely accessible. A pastor’s touch and, today, the touch of a pastor who worked in a big city preaching to the biggest of cities.   


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