I don’t know about you, but Pope Francis just continually inspires and surprises me. There is something so pastoral to his demeanor. Pope Francis has declared this year a Jubilee of Mercy, inviting us all to seek and to live and to serve mercifully. He certainly has been inspiring others into action with this message; on a more personal level, Francis taught me a lesson about mercy at the start of this year.
I recently participated in a retreat with the Ignatian Spirituality Project. This organization provides a retreat based in both Ignatian Spirituality and the spirituality of the Twelve-Step Program to men and women who are homeless and struggling with addiction.
Preparing for the retreat, a strange line of questions appeared: is this really what the men need? Is there a better way to provide shelter, or employment, or rehabilitation and renewal? Is offering a retreat really the priority?
Well, whatever doubts or questions that arose along these lines faded away as soon as the retreat began. These men do have physical needs, but that is not their only area of need. Those who participated all opened themselves up, sharing their stories, their struggles, and their hopes. It was perhaps one of the most moving experiences I have ever witnessed. They needed the retreat. And, truthfully, I needed the retreat. As we opened up, listened, and shared with one another we grew and we found God.
I must admit that there were so many powerful moments which occurred in the retreat. I was a facilitator on the retreat, so in some sense I was ‘giving’ the retreat. And yet, deeper than that I was part of the retreat and part of the experience. Perhaps that is in fact the piece of mercy I so often forget, the being with and loving deeper than surface need. I so often forget that we all have similar needs, that we are connected with one another, and we are loved by God.
So back to Pope Francis. As we planned the retreat, I found out that Pope Francis has helped support ISP. He purposely wanted to reach out to more than just the physical needs of the poor, he wanted to support the deeper needs. He supported those needs of people who are hungry for something that bread would not satisfy; people who are vulnerable, not just because they lack shelter but because they lack welcome.
Maybe that is Pope Francis’s lesson to me about the Year of Mercy: I need to go deeper, and support and love the whole person. And that’s just it: I’ve been Francis[ed] AGAIN!
I’ve been surprised and inspired — again — by the example of Pope Francis.
For more information on the Ignatian Spirituality Project see their website. You can also volunteer online and find a resource page with more information on homelessness and Twelve-Step spirituality.
Cover Image Pope Francis Visit to Kenya, via Flickr User CAFOD Photo Library, courtesy Flickr Creative Commons, available here.