29th Mar 2013

Happy Father's Day: An Easter People's Lenten Love Story

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Quit it. Ever since Paul Elie wrote his New York Times op-ed last month urging Catholics to quit the Catholic Church for Lent, I’ve been savoring crowded pews at church. Any claustrophobic tendencies had already given way to pure gratitude as I stood in St. Peter’ Square for “Habemus Papam,” and gathered there again a few days later for the first Pope Francis Angelus message. May the whole world hear his words about God’s mercy: We might tire of asking for forgiveness, but He never tires of giving it. Never tire of asking! For his mercy endures forever — unlike any of the material goods and successes of this world. Go to eternal joy. Rise out of misery. Be with God.

That night, in St. Peter’ Square, it was cold. It was wet. And we were lifted up out of it all. The Holy Spirit descended upon the Square that night. It was a palpable presence.

It contributed to the odd sense that we were already celebrating Easter, because we were in a “glorious mystery” kind of mood. We were orphans no more. We wanted a Holy Father who could tell the world of our Almighty Father. And look at what we have!

We are a Lenten people celebrating Easter’s promises. I kept having to look at the calendar for another reason, too. It was snowing in the Northeast, but I kept thinking it was June. Easter was upon us, and yet, as far as I’m concerned, we had just celebrated Father’s Day.

Pope Francis’s installation Mass was celebrated on St. Joseph’s Day, and I let slip a “Happy Father’s Day” to a priest or two, to a man or two — and not just to biological fathers, either. There was something profound about the date: In fact, before the cardinals even entered conclave, the buzz around town was that the date was set, as long as the cardinals came to a quick decision. It wasn’t so much fact as need. We need the anchor of the witness — and intercession — of a protective steward of a saintly man. Men do, women do, children do, civilization does.

That Father’s Day imagery only became clearer as the Holy Father talked about protecting God’s gifts to us with tender goodness:

Today, together with the feast of St. Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!

Feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Francis sure seems to be pulling that off the world over, very discernedly as bishop of Rome. Do you read what those boys in Los Angeles had to say to him?

During the Chrism Mass for priests on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis did with words what he has been doing with his witness since coming on the world stage on the Chair of St. Peter: Modeling the priesthood, renewing its needed place in the world. He said:

A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction,” they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem,” “Bless me,” “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into prayer. The prayers of the people of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men.

Pray for me. Bless me. Let me see the joy that sustains you! Rather than the crude jokes, isn’t this what we long for? Prayerful faithful fathers who love the Lord and preach the Gospel? Holy men, who in so many cases today, are priests, despite all sorts of pressures — and ridicule — to stay far away from answering God’s call.

The Holy Father also said: “Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.” This was a Holy Father’s plea as Holy Thursday began for Catholics around the world to remember we are in this body of mystical Christ too, we are called to communion with the Trinity in its renewal, too.

The pictures last weekend of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis drove home the Father’s Day imagery. Two holy fathers, one whose vocation is of prayer now. Can you imagine how intense Pope Benedict's prayers for us must be? When you consider how much he urged us to know Christ, to let Him heal the wounds of the politics within the Church and surrender to secularism from within of recent decades? He knew the world needed another father to help love them to the Father. To get and sustain attention to God’s love and mercy in a world with a limited attention span.

You notice how Pope Francis even repeats himself? How many ways can he tell us on one Sunday about God’s mercy for us? Keep listening, because I suspect he’s going to keep up the challenge to us to truly be Christian, radically so, lovingly so, engagedly so, unceasingly so.

Quitting isn’t an option. Not if we want to be an Easter people. Not if we are who we say we are. We’re in this Love together.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She is a director of Catholic Voices USA and blogs on Catholic things at K-Lo@Large.

(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.)