by Father Mark Goldasich
Beware the Ides of March, my foot! The Ides, I was ready for. It was March 13 that knocked me for a loop.
Originally, the only thing scheduled for that day was a lunch with the archbishop and The Leaven staff. No sweat. Then, quite unexpectedly, it turned out that my mom was moving that day into assisted living. Suddenly, the stress factor ticked up significantly.
So, I foolishly thought to myself, what else can happen? Well, you guessed it. Toward the end of lunch, a knock on the door where we were eating announced that there was white smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney. Of course there was. (I’d brought my iPhone to lunch and, every now and then, I’d sneak a peek as it was set to a “live” feed of the chimney. I do so love the marvels of modern technology: Not only did I not see white smoke before that knock on the door, my apparently “dead” feed never did show smoke . . . of any color.)
As you might imagine, lunch ended rather abruptly and I headed to my computer in The Leaven office to watch for the new pope. It brought back memories of standing in that same square back in 1978, squished in by thousands of other excited people, staring at the balcony above the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica. And last Wednesday — as when John Paul II emerged nearly 35 years ago — I was surprised.
Due to buffering on the computer (ah, technology again), I missed his given name, but not the fact that he was going to be called Pope Francis. Wow, I loved it. Francis is my confirmation name, and Assisi is one of my absolute favorite places. Once I figured out which cardinal was elected, I immediately checked our Leaven “conclave issue.” Whew, there he was — Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio — page 8, top right corner. I was excited that he was from Latin America (a first) and a Jesuit (I was taught by them in Rome).
But all of that faded in importance when he did one thing on that balcony. After greeting the people and praying for the pope emeritus, Pope Francis asked everyone to do something before he gave them his blessing. He invited that vast throng to pray in silence for him. He then bowed his head.
It brought to mind a story about Fred Rogers, host of the “Mister Rogers’ Neighbor” children’s TV show.
One day, when making a trip to California, Mr. Rogers visited a teenager with cerebral palsy. The boy was so nervous, that, when Mr. Rogers arrived, he got mad at himself and began hitting himself. His mother had to take him to another room.
Mister Rogers waited patiently. When the boy came back, Mr. Rogers said, “Would you do something for me? I would like you to pray for me. Will you pray for me?”
The boy, according to journalist Tom Junod, was “thunderstruck,” because nobody had ever asked him for something like that. He had always been prayed for, the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mr. Rogers. The boy said he’d try and, ever since then, he kept Mr. Rogers in his prayers and didn’t talk about wanting to die anymore. He figured that Mr. Rogers is close to God and, if Mr. Rogers likes him, then God must like him, too.
Junod later asked Mr. Rogers how he knew what to say the make the boy feel better. He answered, “I didn’t ask him for prayers [to make him feel better]; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession.” (Adapted from “Depending on the Disabled” in Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion, “ by Craig Brian Larson and Drew Zahn.)
Pope Francis didn’t ask for prayers because he thought it might make a good “media moment” or a good first impression. This “pope of the people” knows firsthand that the everyday challenges that ordinary folks deal with bring them very close to God.
So, how about it? Take a moment now to send a prayer Pope Francis’ way. Isn’t it humbling to know how much he’s depending on all of us?