Pope Francis at St. Patrick's

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

by Michael Sean Winters

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The biggest takeaway from the Pope’s comments at Vespers tonight at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York is this: The attack on women religious is truly dead. “In a special way I would like to express my esteem and gratitude to the religious women of the United States.” Pope Francis said. “What would the Church be without you?  Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel.  To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say “thank you”, a big thank you…  and to tell you that I love you very much.” He was interrupted by applause three times while speaking these words, the only such interruption in his speech. 

The Holy Father began by reminding the cathedral full of clergy and religious that the Christian Gospel is a Gospel of Joy. “’There is a cause for rejoicing here’, although ‘you may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials’ (1 Pet 1:6).  These words of the Apostle remind us of something essential.  Our vocation is to be lived in joy.” Again and again, this pope reminds us that a scolding Church is not a Church that is proclaiming the Gospel. A Church that is building walls instead of bridges is not a Church that is proclaiming the Gospel. A Church that is self-satisfied is not a Church that is proclaiming the Gospel.

The pope again mentioned the clergy sex abuse scandal and, as in yesterday’s remarks to the bishops, people should remember his audience. Tonight, and yesterday, he was not speaking to the victims, but to those who have had to try and address the scandal, to clean up the mess, and to encourage them to keep doing so. In hindsight, yes, if I had been given these texts in advance for comment, I would have said: Wait, you must start with the victims. But, I am confident that before this visit is over, the Holy Father will make clear his awareness of the harm done to the victims, the pain they still carry, and the Church’s need to always assist them as they seek reconciliation in their lives. And, to those who say nothing has changed in the Church’s handling of the clergy sex abuse crisis, I would ask them to name the Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph or the Archbishop of St. Paul.

The Holy Father spoke powerfully about the role of gratitude and the need for work, and he warned, as he often has in the past, about the danger of worldiness among the clergy. “We have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and God’s people rightly expect accountability from us,” Francis said. “But the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in God’s eyes.  To see and evaluate things from God’s perspective calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, great humility.  The cross shows us a different way of measuring success.  Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors.  And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus… and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.” These words ring so true coming from this man who so obviously cares not a whit for the attractions the world has to offer and who is, instead, content to life the simplicity the Gospel demands of its ministers.

Another home run. Carried live on all the cable networks.     

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