With lowered humidity levels and slightly milder temps, we decided to spend the first fall weekend away from the bustle of the State Fair of Texas by heading to Loyd Park. The only crowds we encountered there were of the eight-legged variety: menacing spiders seemed to be spinning webs from nearly every branch. Ants and wasps were added to the terror watch list, but Cliff readily deployed his counterterrorism arsenal, which included bug killer and insect repellant and, during alarming one incursion into Cloud 9, a scrub brush. This was weekend camping at its best. Fine weather, quiet campsites, splendid isolation–and all surrounded by natural wonder. A long morning walk along Joe Pool Lake, with the rising sun illuminating the sky, provided moments of quiet conversation and personal reflection. You know Texas’ long, hot summer is over when you can spend an entire Saturday morning outside reading The New York Times, enjoying coffee and blueberry muffins, bloody marys and bluegrass music, without even breaking a sweat. The dogs also delighted in sitting on our laps or soaking up the sun that filtered through the leafy branches.
Yesterday, Jon’s boss, a Jew, asked him what he thought about Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. It’s one of those questions we dread, primarily because people tend to think, given our having been ordained Catholic priests, that we have some particularly interesting insight or compelling comment to offer. Jon quickly directed the conversation away from religion to politics, noting that House Speaker John Boehner’s resignation so quickly after the pope’s address to Congress would seem to indicate a papal intervention. Even the typically emotive Boehner, a devout Catholic and a daily mass-goer, seemed visibly moved by the pope’s visit.
In truth, Jon didn’t want to delve too deeply into a subject so profound during a hallway encounter with The Man. His decision to relinquish official public ministry in 2001 was, and remains, a painful one. He still considers himself a devoted Catholic and a dedicated priest. We keep a religious home, surrounded by signs and symbols of our faith. We pray together and we share our thoughts about God and religion. We look for and cherish every encounter with the Divine. We continue to minister, in an unoffical capacity, to members of Dignity/Dallas, an organization that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics. We consider ourselves devoted Catholics and authentic priests, even though we can only perform a few official functions. The life we live now is more honest, but the price we paid for that honesty was that we could no longer serve as pastors of souls.
Had Francis been pope in 2001, we might have chosen to stay the course. Had we received the kind of support he challenged his brother bishops to provide their priests, we might have found the strength to carry the yoke of ministry with joy and hope. And Neil M. Rofsky, MD, would never have had the occasion to ask his ordained-priest-turned-radiology-departement-employee that question.
So, Dr. Rofsky, it’s not that Jon was deflecting your question, it’s just difficult to answer it with a soundbite.
What did we think of the pope’s visit? We thought it was a time of singular grace. He repeatedly said that he came to America not to judge or lecture us but to embrace us…to express his solidarity and support and affection. In his address to the U.S. bishops, he said he was united with us whenever we reach out to do good or to show love, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to the lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God. And his words weren’t “pious pish.” He provided an authentic, credible witness that inspired even the most hardened cynics.
Whether he was waving to the crowds from the open window of his Fiat or supping with the powerless in the most powerful capital in the world, his every word and deed conveyed the weight of his truth. He spoke that truth to power at the White House and in the joint session of Congress. He conveyed that truth as he comforted the grieving at Ground Zero and confronted his brother bishops who were no longer grounded in simplicity and service. He lived that truth in every joyful encounter with the most vulnerable among us.
And what was that truth? The enduring allure of goodness and love. At every step of his journey he humbly asked for prayers and called all people of good will to focus on the least among us, on our common home, and on the responsiblility each of us has in promoting peace.
So, what did we think of the pope’s visit to America? We think it was a wonder.