Hitting the Road to Worship with Pope Hope

In less than 36 hours, Joyce and I will be in New York, for the papal Mass at Yankee Stadium. I’m very much looking forward to the experience, even if it means getting on a bus at 6:00am, and spending four hours traveling each way, just to sit high in the upper deck of the stadium.

As much as anything else, I’m looking forward to the community. I expect celebrating the Mass with 50,000 Christians, or whatever it works out to be, will be exhilarating. I get energized on Holy Days when several hundred people crowd the church where I typically celebrate daily Mass with 30 or 40 folks (maybe twice that during Lent). The presence of the Pope should raise the amperage for everyone as well, giving such visible and concrete form to the unity of the Church through his person there among us. If there is ever to be a time I feel what I already know to be true: how, in the liturgy, we each pray together with the entire believing Church, this should be the moment. I hope I am able to hold on even more deeply to that realization as I move through my life in the days to come.

Even the bus trip should be edifying. It will be a charter bus full of about 50 worshipers from surrounding towns, all traveling together with a single purpose. Of course, it’s always possible that I may end up surrounded by people who just won’t shut up – either on the bus, or even in the stadium. If that turns out to be the case, it will just be that much more of a challenge for me to take away from all this a wonderfully illuminating and ennobling experience.

Of course, I am looking forward to hearing the Holy Father address us as well, though in all honesty I do not expect to be able to understand him very well – between his accent, my general struggles hearing speech, and the geography of the encounter. I will understand him better when I can read the published homily, which I will certainly do. Still, I will use the opportunity of physical proximity to personalize my listening, to really treat his words as addressed to me: to be personally encouraged by his encouragement, and to be personally challenged by his challenge to us. Of course, when he addresses the Church – or the world – he always addresses me as a member, but I hope I can be forgiven the conceit of wanting to use the opportunity to interpret this address as being somehow more directly for me, in order to intensify the personal depth of my encounter with it, and motivate me all the more to take ownership of the message. Being there, after all, should make some sort of difference.

I don’t quite know what to expect to hear from him at this point. I’ve been too tired this week to follow much of the visit on TV (not to mention doing more strenuous things like feeding the blog), but from what I’ve seen in the papers and such, he appears to have covered everything on the agenda already. The newspaper coverage has been, for the most part, pitiful – fixated on the media darling abuse crisis (unsurprisingly, given that I’ve mostly been looking at the local scandal rags: The Boston Globe and The Boston Herald). But I saw one thing in a blog entry by Boston Globe staffer Michael Paulson on the day of the White House lawn welcoming ceremony that made me smile. As he was describing the crowd of the faithful gathered in hopes of seeing the Holy Father, he wrote: “I did see some cute little girls with handmade signs reading ‘We love you Pope Hope!’ ”

Pope Hope. I love it.