On Friday Pope Francis will travel to Mexico making the twelfth international journey of his pontificate. In an interview with a reporter from Notimex, the Pope cast his visit as a pilgrimage, that is, more as a journey for his own enrichment than as a service to the church. He said, in part, “I will come to Mexico not like a Wise Man loaded with things to bring, messages, ideas, solutions to problems … I come to Mexico as a pilgrim, to look for something among the Mexican people. … I come to seek the wealth of faith you have, I come for that infectious wealth of faith” (Vatican Information Service, 3 Feb. 2016).
By now the faithful are becoming used to the Pope’s refreshing humility. But there is more to his deflecting attention away from himself and towards what and whom he will find on his journey. His words express an act of faith in the Paschal Mystery. Christians are called to bear the Good News into a world already saved. Every Easter we sing the Alleluia hymn, “The strife is o’er, the battle done, / the victory of life is won; / the song of triumph has begun. / The powers of death have done their worst, / but Christ their legions hath dispersed: / let shout of holy joy outburst.” The meaning of our Easter song is that when we go out into the world it is a redeemed humanity that we will find. The work of salvation is God’s. It is our work to see and make real this gift in our lives and the lives of others as best as our humble efforts can. To go about humanity with this belief in today’s world, especially with real and seeming dangers, injustices, and meanness, is also an act of hope, that is, the confident expectation of future goods. What remains to us, of course, is the third and greatest of the theological virtues, love. What we perceive in Pope Francis’ remarks is his love for the Mexican people. We perceive his desire to find the footsteps of the Savior and the bounty of a redeemed humanity.
Francis’ pilgrimage to Mexico this week is not unlike the journey that our campus community begins this week. Many of us teachers I suspect spent the first week of February busily preparing to meet our students, young and old. We thought about what we want to bring, what we want to accomplish for their sake. Have we thought also about what we will find? Not so much about the poor state of preparedness of our students or their hard-pressed circumstances that get in the way of the leisure needed for learning, or any of the other contemporary tropes we carry so often, but rather about the redeemed humanity shining in the hearts and minds of those entrusted to our care. What will we learn from them? What sprouts of the Easter Alleluia will we hear as we gather in our classrooms, offices, library, lunch tables, and arcades? These questions and the possibilities that they afford are the same for students, staff, and administrators. They can be especially timely as we begin the season of fasting and Easter preparation on Ash Wednesday this week. Let us make our Lenten observances as pilgrimages, or journeys to find and celebrate in those we meet and serve the richness of the beliefs we hold dearest within ourselves and that give our lives meaning.
Let us pray also for Pope Francis, that his trip to Mexico be a discovery and celebration for everyone, of the Gospel incarnate in the Mexican people.
Pope Francis by Brother Patrick Martin, F.S.C.
Theological Virtues, photo by Lawrence, O.P., on flickr