“I feel like the apostles at Jesus' Ascension,” a friend wrote to me this past Monday morning. “When I was watching Pope Francis fly into the night, I just wanted to cling to him and hold on.” I knew what she meant. In a way, I think all of us do.
As I sat and reflected on the few days the pope spent in the United States, with all that he did and shared, and the two days, in particular, that we were treated to his presence in Philadelphia, I couldn’t believe how significant the time had been. Seeing him go was like the Ascension; I was sad, but I also knew that what I’d experienced wasn’t over. Francis left a spirit that needs to be kept alive.
This spirit is one that challenges. It’s the force that from day one simultaneously drew Congressmen to their feet and kept them glued to their seats. How do we emulate the models of faith courage, and dialogue in our history not only in word but in our very being? Lincoln, King, Day and Merton all had that spirit. It drove them, and the invitation offered by Francis is to live lives of consequence like them, with a spirit of creativity that brings life even in struggle, dialogue even in silence, justice even in turmoil.
This spirit is the Golden Rule lived out. It isn’t easy, just like love and families and relationships. Francis readily admits that and still he offers a vision of the Holy Spirit to the world that acts with creativity and compassion. “Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit.” He shared in his homily at the closing papal Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, “It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures.”
That faith, of course, “grows when it is lived and shaped by love,” Francis continued. We can’t tolerate divisions among us; the Spirit, if truly followed, won’t allow for that. Over and over, Francis underscored this fact. The human family isn’t meant to be divided. Unity is born of love, a love rooted in faith which respects differences and makes space for a new creation. That creation is all about relationships.
If Francis’ creative spirit propagated nothing else, it built relationships. I watched as time and time again, Francis lit up in the presence of others. With those hurting, those outcast and those overjoyed, the Spirit appeared in the bond between them: a knowing glance, a tender hug, a whisper, a pat on the head. In these little gestures, Francis modeled something far greater than any words. He gave shape and form to love, and he gave the Spirit a means of entering the world. We must never forget that each of us has that opportunity.
The creative Spirit Francis speaks of and shares is a spirit that has the power to create far beyond what we can see or imagine. It’s a love that reaches across bounds — that welcomes the child that runs from the sidelines, that embraces the felon as friend, and that dines side-by-side with the homeless and hungry. Francis’ speeches throughout his visit were peppered with words about the Spirit, but it was his actions that gave witness to the creative power of Love.
I watched as that Love transformed my city. I felt it as it changed my heart. I cried as I stood feet from Francis, and I smiled wider than I have in a long time as I witnessed the Spirit in my midst. In a security line for four hours, I came to know my fellow pilgrims. On the lawn of Independence Hall, I felt the tough work of reconciliation continue. Beneath the gaze of the Philadelphia Art Museum, I listened as Pope Francis spoke from the heart about a love and beauty that crosses all boundaries and unites all people, about how before God did anything else, God loved.
That love is the root of creation. It embraces young and old and points us to the future.
Creativity is the force of the future we need to harness today.
I believe that is what Pope Francis is doing. He is allowing space for creativity. If we give the Spirit space, creation is inevitable; that is what the Spirit does. This creativity, though, is not what we might initially think of it as. It’s not solely a new way of thinking or a new design or inspiration. Creativity is none of these things alone. Creativity is conversion. It is a call we embrace to never be the same. To be changed by Christ so as to be and bring a new creation — to think, see, act, inspire and love radically.
In our church and world today, the Spirit calls us to creativity spawned by conversion. We must see the signs of the times without disparaging them with stories of the past.“This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations,” Francis declared speaking to Religious at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul Saturday morning in Philadelphia. Creativity in “carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life.” This requires making space for who and what is new. It means developing talents and recognizing that together we accomplish the work of the Spirit.
Pope Francis repeated that phrase five times in his homily at the Mass for Religious at thePhiladelphia Basilica Saturday morning: “¿Y tu?”
What about you?
Those were the words Pope Leo XIII responded to a young St.Katharine Drexel with when she questioned him about serving the missions, “What about you? What are you going to do?”
Sitting in the church, I was struck by the way Pope Francis uttered those words in his native Spanish and let them float over the crowd. This is a moment of new creation, I thought to myself. With each repetition, the Spirit sank in deeper.
What about you?
How am I going to be responsible for the church? How must we all share in that responsibility? How is Jesus calling? Where might the Spirit be spurring conversion — in my heart, in community, in the church, and in society?
Walking down an empty street Sunday night, I came upon a television set up on the balcony of a café in the business district. Looking up, I spied as Pope Francis settled into his seat on the plane. I imagined all he must be thinking and feeling. I can only imagine. As the plane taxied away, he waved one last time. “What about you?” the Spirit said within me as the plane left the ground and ascended into the night sky.
Monday morning, I read my friend’s email about the Ascension. “When I was watching Pope Francis fly into the night, I just wanted to cling to him and hold on,” she wrote, and then continued, “I believe that God wants us to carry on, having had the profound and personal experience with Pope Francis. May we be faithful.”
I think that’s what Francis would want and I pray that that’s where the Spirit will lead us.
[Colleen Gibson is a Sister of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia. Author of the blog Wandering in Wonder, she currently serves as assistant director of campus ministry at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia.]