Meeting People Where They Are
For years, the pope has held audiences on Wednesday mornings in St. Peter’s Square, which is in the heart of Vatican City.
Back on May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was passing through the square for the start of his weekly audience when he was shot by a 23-year-old assailant.
He taught all of us lessons about forgiveness when he visited the man two years after the assassination attempt. News reports tell us that the pope shook the hand of his would-be-killer, and then the two men talked quietly for more than 20 minutes. The pope said of the meeting, "What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned, and who has my complete trust."
Our newest pope, Francis, has continued the tradition of those Wednesday audiences. One of my jobs at The Message is to post the Catholic News Service story about each audience to The Message website.
The story about the Holy Father’s message on June 4 caught my eye. In it, Pope Francis talked about piety, which is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. He cautioned that piety is not “squeezing one’s eyes shut to the world and putting on a sweet little angel face.”
It is, he explained, “opening up one’s heart to God and one’s arms to embrace everyone as brothers and sisters.”
When someone has the “gift of piety” they are filled with “patience and peace with God in gentle service to others.”
Piety is about identity and belonging, he said. That is why it renders people "truly capable of being joyful with those who are happy; to cry with those who weep; to be near those who are alone or in distress; to correct those in error; to console the afflicted; to welcome and come to the aid of those in need."
As I read the CNS story back in June, I immediately thought of my neighbor, Dave, who died in 2001. More than anyone I can think of — he exemplified those words. I remember him as a happy, friendly man who had the rare gift of meeting people exactly where they were in their lives.
He seemed to sense where people were, he never seemed to judge, and he didn’t seem to have any expectations that people would change.
Dave died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack when he was only 62 years old. A few days later, more than 350 people attended his funeral. They loved him enough to take a morning off from work so they could pay their respects.
In his June 4 papal audience, Pope Francis encouraged us to be in service to others “with gentleness and also a smile.”
That was my neighbor Dave. Let’s pray that we can become that as well.