Today, September 23, 2015, Pope Francis will celebrate the first Mass of Canonization to take place in North Ameria. The soon-to-be Saint is Junipero Serra, an 18th century Franciscan missionary who founded the first 9 of the California missions. I will blog more about this newest Saint and the canonization itself, but in this blog I want to call your attention to something that might only be noticed by most people in passing: the simple iron cross that will be part of the altar used during the Mass.
The 4-foot cross is made of iron from two ships: the Ark and the Dove. These vessels carried Catholic and Protestant pilgrims over the Atlantic Ocean in the early 17th Century. The cross is usually housed at Georgetown University in Dahlgren Chapel, thus it’s commonly referred to as the “Dahlgren Cross.” The cross was used at the first legally held Mass in the English Colonies in 1634. It is inscribed: Ad Perpetuam Rei Memoriam (“Let this be always remembered”) 1862.
The picture above is a bit of a sneak preview of the altar and the cross; both were on display in the Basilica of the National Shrine prior to the Pope’s arrival. As you witness the Mass of Canonization, take a moment to consider that this very simple cross has not only powerful faith significance, but it also carries a tradition of religious freedom and tolerance – truths just as timely today as they were when the cross arrived on our shores in the hands of people eager for new lives in a new land!
As I type this, Pope Francis is about to arrive at Joint Base Andrews. There is the usual activity as people gather to greet the Pontiff – some are finding their seats, photographers are checking their camera angles and light (some clouds in the sky today). And, during the preparations, a group steadily recites the rosary, a venerable and beloved tradition as portable as it is powerful. Indeed prayer has already been front and center – and gently quiet – during the first leg of the Papl Visit, a three-day trip to Cuba. But this exhiit of faith among the people waiting for the Pope is a true example of how, waiting or being active, everyone can take a few moments, collect thoughts and heart, and lift up prayers to the Lord.
As more people gather on the tarmac, and the Papal Flag flutters in the breeze alongside the Stars and Stripes, the rosary has finished. But the true praying continues!
One of the first things that strikes me about Washington DC this week is the personal way the City is preparing to greet Pope Francis. The picture with this blog is of the banner hanging on the Basilica of the National Shrine, where the Pope will celebrate the Mass of Canonization for Junipero Serra on Wednesday. It is not a formal, lofty message, but rather one that reflects an overt joy – and a message of love. Quite a difference from how other heads of State are often greeted!
The message on the banner is simple, but complex, too. “Love Is Our Mission” is not something you can imagine being acted out once and then shelved, for a mission is something longer and more intense than a one-time expression and love has many musical tones and layers, sights and sounds.
As Pope Francis begins the U.S. portion of his Visit, much will be said of his speeches and activities. I’ll be looking for those clues, those lessons of love that can inform me and many others on how to continue the “Mission” in the days and years ahead!
Already, I a amazed at the energy with which Pope Francis is moving through his arduous Visit. I watched much of the coverage from Cuba, and kept wondering, “How does he maintain his natural, loving, joy-filled smile? He has to be beyond tired.”
I think of myself when I’m tired, when the lupus fatigue brings a heaviness and lethargy to my muscles and pain to my joints. I’m hard-pressed to conduct a coherent conversation, then. But this Pontiff is absolutely beaming under travel conditions (a jammed schedule, multiple time zones, etc.) that would make even a healthy person tired!
As you and I know, there are some conditions that we who have chronic illness cannot overcome, even with our expert medical teams. For me, one of these is fatigue. But Pope Francis’ trip thus far yields some clues as to how we might tackle it, subdue it a bit
I’ve noticed that Pope Francis has a lot of help. Of course he would; after all, he is Pope. But it’s a good reminder to us that we, too, might be more quick to ask for and avail ourselves of help-.
Another lesson I’ve observed so far is that, of course, Pope Francis exhibits a supremely solid core of Spirit. This is vital to keeping ourselves even and peaceful, even in the midst of a hectic schedule and arduous activities.
Finally, Pope Francis is doing what he loves and what he is clearly called to do. This is key and we who are ill can take great wisdom from this example: When we do what we love and what God is asking us to do, there is much less toil and much more inspiration!
No doubt I’ll learn much more from Pope Francis as his Visit unfolds. But this lesson is powerful – and something to ponder and embrace now and long after the Visit is over.