We're getting endless pope coverage in newspapers and on TV, but is the papal visit making its way back to the parishes and the people in the pews? A priest friend of mine who was celebrating Mass at an East Brunswick, N.J., parish this morning, told me that he took the opportunity today to preach about the visit and to challenge church-goers to follow the example of Pope Benedict and speak with authority about their faith "in season and out of season."
Msgr. William Benwell, vicar general for the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., said that when he thinks back on all the papal visits he remembers in his life, going back to when he was only 11 years old, one thing is a constant. "The pope always surprises," he said.
This morning at St. Bartholomew's parish, he reminded people how, in the days leading up to the papal visit, the media focus was on "cynical and skeptical questions" about problems in the Church, the morale of Catholics, and decreasing numbers at Sunday Mass.
Instead of skepticism and criticism, however, the pope, he said, was greeted with a tremendous outpouring of affection from a people who are interested in and inspired by what he has to say. The question he posed to parishioners this morning was "Why?"
First, he said, it is the history, the unbroken line of succession that ties the pope to Jesus, but equal to that is the fact that the pope "exudes what Jesus exuded in the Gospels. He speaks with authority."
"This is a man who is not a phony. Americans hate phonies. He is not like so many politicians who change their accent depending on their audience. This pope has spoken with a consistent message in season and out of season, the message of Jesus Christ," said Msgr. Benwell. "People want to see that, whether they realize it or not. They respect that and they are drawn to it."
Before wrapping up his homily, he challenged parishioners to have the courage of their convictions and exude that same sort of credibility when it comes to their faith, no matter what the winds of change say. The response was good, he said, better than the typical Sunday reviews from the pews. So that's how it's playing in Peoria, or at least in East Brunswick.
-- Mary DeTurris Poust