I’ve been glued to the TV this weekend, captivated by the coverage of Pope Francis’ historic visit in my hometown of Philadelphia. My kids are perplexed at my interest (“Why are you watching this? We’re not even Catholic,” and “I’ve never seen you so religious, Mom,” have been common refrains, as if they’re expecting me to join a nunnery).
But with the exception of the Festival of Families ceremony last night, which struck me as .. well, kind of weird … I couldn’t get enough. Like millions of others, I love this charismatic Pope and how his words and actions challenges and inspires every one of us to become better people.
The concept of faith is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past few months. Raised Lutheran, I attended a Catholic college where I met and fell in love with a guy who was raised Jewish. (We were the only two non-Catholics in the Religion in America class that was the catalyst for our becoming friends.) We were married in the Lutheran church by a pastor who embraced a new, modern approach to Christianity that emphasized a message of hope and optimism and God’s role in making us better people. So much of who I am and what I believe is because of this pastor and his sermons that are still on my bookshelves today.
At one point during our Infertility Years, my sister-in-law invited The Husband and I to attend a local Unitarian Universalist congregation … and no one was more surprised than we were when we kept coming back. That church became a rock for us in those tough years.
But over the past two years, my attendance at a UU fellowship here in Pittsburgh has been sporadic at best to non-existent. It has nothing to do with the church itself, as I really like the people, the services, and the minister. Part of it is timing: in our house, Sunday mornings and afternoons usually find the four of us relaxing in our respective ways: with football, baseball or hockey on TV, depending on the sport of the season; with a book and some time spent on the deck communing with the birds and weather; with writing; with a hearty soup in the crockpot. It’s a simple time, a quasi-Sabbath, a reprieve during the week. Mass offered at different times is something I’ve always thought the Catholics do right; in 2012, 82% of Unitarian Universalist congregations had 249 members or less, so there’s a ways to go there. (Then again, there isn’t that whole weekly obligation thing.)
Still, ours is a family that’s unchurched and unaffiliated. The consequence of such ranges from my kids not knowing the basic principles of religion (“What does ‘bless’ mean?” my son asked this morning, as I watched on TV the Pope embracing prisoners) to my frustration on how faith communities often fail to accommodate children with disabilities — yes, even UUs — and my guilt that maybe raising our kids with a lack of religious fundamentals demonstrates how much The Husband and I have screwed up as parents.
I’m not sure what the answer is – and to be honest, because I’m not even sure the UU faith is working for me right now, I can’t prescribe it as a balm for everyone in our family. (Although there will be a monthly Wednesday evening service this fall, so that might be something.) The Unitarian Universalist religion’s heavy emphasis on social justice and seemingly relentless focus on certain societal and political issues (important as they are) often leaves me weary because there’s only so much I can do, only so much attention I can give, especially when — as has been the case recently — my own world feels out of control and chaotic.
Where the brand of Lutheranism of my youth, the Catholicism of my college years, and the Unitarian Universalist affiliations in my adulthood have been the faiths I’ve identified with the most, my faith has become akin to a smoothie. It’s somewhat of a potpourri of the past and the present these days: reading Anne LaMott; listening to UU blogs and podcasts; meditating before bedtime; performing infrequent random acts of kindness; being observant of the skies; submitting a struggle online for a stranger to add to the Mary, Undoer of Knots Grotto.
I wonder if it is all good enough, and then, amazingly, as I watched Pope Francis celebrate Mass with hundreds of thousands in the streets of my beloved Philadelphia, the Pope says yes, it is.
“Faith opens a “window” to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. “Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded”, says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures.
Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.
Jesus tells us not to hold back these little miracles. Instead, he wants us to encourage them, to spread them. He asks us to go through life, our everyday life, encouraging all these little signs of love as signs of his own living and active presence in our world.
So we might ask ourselves: How are we trying to live this way in our homes, in our societies? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children (cf. Laudato Si’, 160)? We cannot answer these questions alone, by ourselves. It is the Spirit who challenges us to respond as part of the great human family. Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions. The urgent challenge of protecting our home includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change (cf. ibid., 13). May our children find in us models and incentives to communion! May our children find in us men and women capable of joining others in bringing to full flower all the good seeds which the Father has sown!” (Text of Pope Francis’ homily, 9/27/2015, Philadelphia)
May it be so. Blessed be.