My predominant memory from a year ago this week was the rain. There was a ceaseless downpour everywhere in Rome. I was among the influx of media there to cover the coming election of a new pope.
During that Lenten season, no one predicted what was to come — a Rolling Stone cover story on the first pope from the Americas being the least among the surprises to come. And yet in the uncertainty of that time — the unprecedented abdication of Pope Benedict XVI had shaken the faithful — there was a confidence and hope.
Pope Francis recently pointed to people who know how to suffer with smiles on their faces, who keep “the joy of faith” prominent even as they face trials and illness. They are people who, he said, “carry the Church forward with their everyday sanctity,” becoming true beacons.
There was something about the joy everyone seemed to have in the rain as they awaited the verdict of the papal conclave that spoke to a participation in something more powerful than any ordinary election.
Writing about this time in the Church in an e-book, “Praying in Rome,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan observed that the big question for a Christian is: “Am I going to be open to the grace of the Holy Spirit? Am I going to be able to detect the Spirit’s guidance?”
This guidance and willingness to detect it seem more necessary than ever before. As fundamental building blocks of a healthy society crumble — the family, marriage and religious liberty all come to mind — what we need is a renewed focus on stewardship and integrity, and a respite from the distractions of polarized politics and cultural battlegrounds.
There’s something about Pope Francis that has captured the aspirations of the world. He’s a humble servant who points us to the compelling, joyful alternative that is the Gospels and their way of self-sacrifice, love and charity.