There is a wonderful story floating around Facebook. It’s a video put together of a young man and Pope Francis.
Children in a rough part of Rome had been taking catechism classes. They were learning about the bible, theology, and mission.
Sometimes when we do this, hard questions get stirred up in us.
Was Jonah really in the belly of the whale?
Where did all the demons go?
What happens to us when we die?
Where does a young person take such questions?
Well it just so happened that an opportunity came up to ask somewhat of an expert.
Pope Francis held court in the neighborhood and child after child came up to a microphone and asked the Holy Father questions.
A boy known only as Emmanuelle approached the microphone. His question was at once so simple and yet so complicated.
Emmanuelle’s nerves got the better of him at first but Pope Francis gave him a gentle, “come on, come on.”
The boy replied, “I can’t.”
The Pope said, “well then, come and whisper it in my ear.”
Slowly, Emmanuele was brought to the stage.
Once he reached the Pope, he collapsed into his chest and started crying.
The Pope hugged the boy and listened through the tears to his question.
After giving him some private counsel, the boy returned to his seat still crying.
The Pope addressed the crowd,
“Emmanuelle has told me that his Father had recently passed away.
He is concerned that because his father was an atheist, he will not go to heaven.”
“Emmanuelle tells me that his father had him and his three siblings baptized.”
“He was a good man.”
“Emmanuelle has doubt that his father, not being a believer, could not go to heaven.”
“It is God who decides who goes to heaven.”
“But how is God’s heart in front of a father like that?”
“What do you think?
“The heart of a father.”
“God has a dad’s heart.”
“And in front of a Dad, who even though not a believer, still has been able to baptize all of his children and pass them his goodness, do you think that God could leave him far away?
“Do you think this?” The Pope implored the crowd.
Say it loudly, with courage!
No! The crowd responded
Does God abandon his children?
No! The crowd roared back
Here, Emanuelle, is your answer.
Speak to your Dad, pray for your dad.
Thank you for your courage Emmanuelle
Now, I am sure that the college of Cardinals will have a million reasons why the Pope didn’t mean exactly what he said.
And while there is a lot in that interaction I want to zoom in on one thing.
The Boy needed to know something.
How much does God love?
How wide is God’s mercy?
I have good news and challenging news for you.
The challenging news is this:
You don’t have to be the Pope for people to ask you these questions.
Someone in crisis could come up to you and ask, does God love me enough to forgive me for this? Does God love my Dad enough to forgive him that?
The Good news is this, you don’t have to be the Pope to answer to these questions.
When given this question, the Pope did not respond with an answer from a crusty old theologian nor anything else from his admirable academic background.
He knew the answer because he knew the love of God. He knows the reality of that love more than anything else in the world.
And do you think that young man will ever doubt the love of God? Maybe, I guess. But He will never forget the way he felt when the love of God was so clearly given to him in the comforting words and the tender embrace of the Holy Father.
Pope Francis’ reaction didn’t come from all of his international travels nor did he keep it in his Pope hat. It came from day in and day out listening for God’s “I love you,” and faithfully responding, “I know and I love you too.”
It came from abiding in the love of God.
If you have ever wondered how we can grow our fellowship. If you have ever wondered how we can meet the needs of a weary world today’s gospel gives us the answer.
Abide in God’s love. Spend time everyday praying, learning, and listening for God. If we don’t strive to be a community rooted in this love, we will be like branch cut off. We may stay green for a while but we won’t last for long.
But, if we, as a whole church, not just me and Deacon Beth, not just the vestry, but everybody, we will see something remarkable. When we become a people overflowing with the love of God, we won’t be able to help but pass it on.
When we are confronted by the hardships of the world, we will be able to respond, with confidence in a love we have known for ourselves, just like Pope Francis, God loves you and this whole world more than you can imagine.
When we do that, when we abide in the love the Father, when we truly start looking like the disciples of the Resurrected Christ, we will see fruit.
This is the promise given to us. We have only to hold up our end of the deal.