Pope and Change

No, that’s not a typo. And yes, it does sound familiar.

I have been thinking about this Pope’s compassion. His willingness to pastor to those whom others have sought to ignore or even vilify, has been a welcome change. The institution of the papacy has not changed, although there is a growing movement to break down old,seemingly sacred barriers to include people who have been previously excluded, and to actually reform what has given cover to corruption and abuse. The change that the world is witnessing with Pope Francis, is one of greater compassion, caring, and reverence for actual life, not merely theoretical life, including sustaining our environment and taking action to mitigate climate change.

Many mock “Hope and Change” as a bumper sticker for the presidential race of ’08, and site everything that has challenged their beliefs or seemed wrong, or was difficult and incomplete, and even worse in some respects, as evidence that hope and change was a hoax. We must remember the reality of hope: Hope is not a solution. It is a spark.

Hope may evoke an ideal, and even ideas of change, but the words and deeds produced out of that hope are indeed seeds of change. Fear may also evoke an ideal, albeit a negative one— a hazard. The energy of fear often produces extreme speech and rigid responses. It limits possibilities in order to confirm a conviction of threat.

It is easy to feel despair and point to all that is wrong to confirm the hopeless conviction. It is difficult to create change in the space of despair. Resignation eliminates possibility. Moreover, it is easy for fear to take over, and fear has an energy that can overwhelm us, limiting possibility, or unleashing repressive or aggressive speech and/or actions.

For  many, this week is holy. For others, it may be a highly ritualized few days. Regardless of religious interpretations, this Pope’s visit is at once specific to a tradition and inclusive of those beyond that specific tradition. For those who observe the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Jewish tradition, forgiveness of oneself and others is the primary concern. Atonement is practiced both privately and among the community. There is hope for change (for the better) after acknowledging wrongdoings—intentional or unintentional—and seeking to repair that which was broken.

Of course, at -one- ment, that experience of unity, is fleeting. After the blessings and the rituals and the speeches and the excitement have passed, whether it’s the Pope or the President, or the candidate, or the pundit, or the teacher, or the tweeter, or any other revered or merely popular figure, it’s our own words and deeds that require regular attention, and a willingness to not say and /or do what we’ve always done.

I am curious to hear the Pope as he visits the U.S. for his first time. Although I am not Catholic, I welcome wisdom and compassion and the cultivation of peace through peace. So many Americans of so many different religious traditions find him to be a welcome change and an inspiration. We do not have to have been raised in the same institutions or culture or religious faith to be inspired and educated and glean wisdom. We can welcome the Pope, and change.

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