Pope Francis and the gospel of engagement

Sunday’s Gospel (30th Sunday in Ordinary Time) is one I’ve heard hundreds of times -- Jesus curing the blind man, Bartimaeus.

Pope Francis applied it to the bishops in a unique and compelling way. The disciples did not stop and pay any attention to Bartimaeus, noted Francis. But Jesus did. The bishops are too often like the disciples.

Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants ... and he wants to see. And Jesus did not want only to cure him, he wanted to meet him, engage with him, hear his plea and help.

When I hear this sentiment, I picture Francis on one of those city buses in Buenos Aires, Argentina, buses he rode just about every day as a cardinal archbishop. He lived in a modest neighborhood, visited with the poor daily. When Francis was in the United States, we could see a similar engagement: wanting to greet children and kiss them. He wanted to meet people, talk to them. He is clearly a “people pope.”

To not engage with others as a human being, he called a “spirituality of illusion,” walking through “deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there. ...” Unfortunately, it is what too many church prelates seem to do.

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And it’s too easy for all of us who ... like me ... are constantly rushing. As I write this, I think of a woman whom I see every day when I get off the Metro in Washington, D.C. She is selling a little newspaper called Street Sense that is put out by homeless D.C. residents. I have bought it from her several times ... it’s a unique little publication. I wanted to support the cause of the homeless. But I did little more than fork over money for the paper. Then, last week, she spoke to me in a unique way: “Guess what?” she said. “What?” I responded. “I got an apartment! I’m so excited.”

We talked, actually conversed, for the first time. I was delighted to hear her news and see her happiness. “Do you have furnishings?” I asked. “Yes, it came with furniture,” she answered. I think this is part of one of the local programs for people here. I am so glad for her.

But until she pulled me out with her “guess what?" I had not paid much attention. Now we can talk. And I remember her in prayer. I think that’s what Francis meant.


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