We’re heading into a week when it’s going to be really fun to be Catholic.
The man who is arguably the most popular human on the planet (including Santa Claus) is coming to town and everybody from CBS to the Weather Channel is going to be shifting to “all-Pope-Francis-all-the-time” coverage, which means that the networks will be snatching up telegenic monsignors by the trainload to serve as color commentators and explain to the non-Catholic viewing public what, for example, a canonization is all about.
This is painless evangelization of the best kind, because it doesn’t feel like evangelization. It feels like good TV (or, if you like, good theater, which the Church has always been very adept at). We know how to wrap a solid message in a really good show, and Francis is going to do just that in Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia during the coming week.
Americans who are not Catholic inevitably seem to develop an almost voracious curiosity about the faith whenever a particularly significant Catholic-oriented event takes over the news—papal elections, for example. Nothing, however, seems to trigger this response like a visit by a pope to American soil. Anyone who was in Southern California during the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1987 will recall that the welcome was tumultuous, the spectacle grand and the questions nearly endless. Everybody, it seemed, wanted to know everything about the pope, the Church, the Mass and everything else from the proper use of holy water to the going price of pope-on-a-rope soap (really).
And next week, Catholics get to be In once again. This is big fun on one level because we get to be the go-to folks when everybody else starts expressing their curiosity. On another level, there’s real responsibility that goes along with the fun—because we get to be the go-to folks when everybody else starts expressing their curiosity.
We’re going to be asked about the big and the little things: during the Mass of canonization at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, someone is going to want to know what the Immaculate Conception was, while another person may ask why Francis isn’t wearing red shoes. When the Holy Father raises his chalice at the consecration during Mass in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum, someone will want an explanation of the act. And someone else will want to know if the altar isn’t sitting on the same spot where Rocky Balboa did his victory dance (it is).
The coming week is an opportunity for American Catholics to bask in their faith and let all others be warmed in the attendant glow. We won’t need to work hard at it (Francis will do the heavy lifting), but we do need to be present, engaged, active, involved and available. Those who know we are Catholic will be turning to us for cues, whether they, or we, know it or not. And we will be taking our cues from the Holy Father.
Pope Francis may be the head of the Church, but we are the Church. In America, we are its day-to-day face. This coming week, that face, at the behest of Pope Francis, will come into specific relief. It’s an opportunity to be embraced.
Rocky Balboa, by the way, is a Catholic.