by Father Mark Goldasich
Even though I sometimes refer to it as “antisocial” media because of the negative posts and comments there, on many other occasions it serves the valuable purpose of bringing people together and uplifting them.
That was the case a couple of weeks ago when I came across this post from Stuart, a parishioner of mine who works for the Union Pacific Railroad. Here’s what he wrote on Sept. 27:
“Friday morning, on my way to work, I heard numerous trains reporting a trespasser on railroad property. Since I was nearby, I decided to check him out and found him pushing his bicycle along the right of way. He had numerous bags on his bike, possibly all his possessions.
I informed him he needed to leave the railroad property and get on the nearby public road, a couple hundred yards away. I watched him as I backed [my truck] up to leave and the thought came to me, ‘Stuart, you can do so much better.’
I stopped and waited for him to get to me and got out and talked with him. He told me his name was Hadeez(?) — he may or may not have been born on this soil, but spoke English very well. He asked my name and I told him, ‘Stuart.’ With that, his eyes brightened and he told me he was a steward (janitor) and had lost his job and was traveling to find a new job.
I offered him my iced water and gave him what I had. I asked if he needed food and gave him the food I had in my truck.
I watched him as he continued on, offered a prayer for him and hoped I had given him something to lift his day.
As I started to leave, I passed him. He got way over on the shoulder and waved as I passed. The thought came to me: By the place of my birth, my education, the people in my life and, most importantly, THE GRACE OF GOD, there go I.
I realized at that point it was I who was lifted the most by our chance encounter.”
I smiled as I read Stuart’s words and posted the comment: “Pope Francis would be proud of you, as I am.” His post got plenty of views. My comment joined 40 others, as well as some 84 “likes.”
I continue to mull over Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. I don’t know how a 78-year-old man with an excised lung could keep the schedule that he did and still look so energetic and joyful. And he did all of this in a country that speaks a language that he is, by his own admission, not at all good at. Yet, in between powerful talks at the White House and Congress, to name just a few, he managed to spend time with the homeless, visit aging Sisters, greet recent immigrants, tour a Catholic grade school, kiss scores of babies, give encouragement to prisoners, pray for peace with various faith leaders, celebrate families and bless the sick and disabled. And all this in just six days!
Naturally, there were some critics of the pope. I saw one particularly uncharitable article about him from a noted national columnist and some demeaning tweets from a political commentator and writer. I’m sure that Pope Francis, the pope of mercy, would look upon these folks with love and forgiveness. (I am so not there yet!) As hurtful and divisive as their words and observations were, the pope’s actions spoke instead of building bridges and healing.
Most of all, though, I think that Pope Francis visited to give all of us an example . . . and a challenge. He would say that just as he visited the sick and prisoners, so can we. Just as he encountered the homeless and immigrants and treated them with respect, so can we. Just as he prayed for peace alongside those of different faiths, so can we. Just as he celebrated with students and families, so can we. Just as he reached out and sought to bring people together, so can we. Yes, we really can do all of these things . . . if we only care enough to take the time.
It’s here that Stuart’s words ring so true for me and many others: You can do so much better! So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get out there and push ourselves to do “so much better.”
After all, don’t we all want to make our Papa Francesco proud?