"God is love, and all who live in love, live in God"
That pretty much sums up my faith lately - a faith that has been tested but still hopes for the goodness of the human race to triumph - eventually. A faith that has witnessed unspeakable injustice (but what if it had happened to me!) in Africa and New Orleans, but still hopes for renewal. A faith that is inspired by all those who still have hope. A faith that hopes "love of neighbor" is enough. To me, hope is an action verb. We can't wait.
So my mixed experience seeing the new pope in person needed less than 24 hours for a resolution. On Sunday morning, sitting in the pews of Ascension, on the Upper West Side, truth was spoken. Fr. Duffell (otherwise known as a prophet) was in his true form. As the line goes from the song "Walkin' in Memphis" -
"Tell me are you a Christian child?"
And I said "Ma'am I am tonight"
Fr. Duffell has that affect on people, I think.
The theme of Fr. Duffell's homily (and the Pope's at St. Patrick's earlier in the day, he noted) was about the church being more than just the building itself - it is the people, and all the gifts, faults, talents, and brokenness any mix of people bring when they come together. But especially as a Christian community, he noted, the Church is different. "In loving the enemy, change will come about," he prophesied. "Imagine the good that can come from forgiveness and love of neighbor," he proclaimed, "especially when the neighbor is different from you. The concept of solidarity, while not included in the Bible - is a biblical idea. The church's focus on ecclesia, on bringing together rather than dividing, empowers us to love. It doesn't matter if you are black, white, hispanic, young, old, muslim, jew, straight, or gay - God calls us not to judge one another, but to love one another."
At this point, of course, I was pretty excited, as I usually am at Ascension. The nice extra touches he adds for the Profession of Faith top it off - instead of mindless repeating of the Nicene Creed which we've all had memorized since 3rd grade religious education, it's an active, question-and-answer format with the response being, "I believe Lord, help my unbelief". How true.
And to cap off the Prayers of the Faithful, we always sing a prayer of peace and thanksgiving (that includes the line "Skies everywhere are as blue as mine") - and then the prayer of St. Francis right before communion, during the sign of peace. Basically, he's pretty effective about getting across the point that inclusion is a central point of Christianity. That through our diversity we can learn more about the nature of God.
The highlight of this past Sunday though, I think, was a group of baptisms that he wove into the liturgy. Of the 7 or 8 children that were baptized, I counted probably 3 or 4 different races. I definitely want to be somewhere where THAT many different types of people feel comfortable. I'm sad that Megan and I don't get to go every week anymore - but it just makes the experience that much more precious when it does happen.
On his way out, after mentioning that his sister got to meet with the pope at Ground Zero earlier in the day (her son died on Sept. 11) - and asking us to pray for peace, Fr. Duffell said that in the run up to the Pope's visit, the NY Times did a feature story on Ascension last week. It does a good job summarizing the general feel of the place. May everyone have such a welcoming place that we can call home.