When we did the math on the World Meeting of Families and Luke’s due date, it didn’t seem likely that I’d be joining Dave for the event. All throughout his pregnancy I thought to myself, “if he comes 2 weeks early, maybe I’ll feel good enough to go. 8 weeks is a decent amount of time to recover before traveling.”
Well, as these things go, early he was not. Not by much, anyhow. But the recovery and reentry period into our new normal has been so good that about 2 weeks ago we looked at each other, Luke and I, and we said hey, let’s book that flight. It’ll be great.
And you know what? It was great. Luke’s a great flyer, I had the kindest seat mates, and there was a beer festival in the terminal just before security. I mean, come on. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Or maybe it does.
Maybe, after a morning of inspiring talks (Rick Warren, Cardinal O’Malley, Simcha Fisher), an encounter with the first class relics of Bl. (soon to be saints!) Zelie and Louis Martin, an evening of dinner and drinks with great friends, and a minimal amount of sleep, you awaken the next morning to the opportunity to join an old friend and a new friend with generous hearts and brave, barricade-guarding elbows and 2 extra tickets to a papal event.
And then maybe you spend the next 7 hours camped out on the concrete alongside your strong and uncomplaining husband in the hot autumn sun, a sweating and sometimes bodily-fluid-emitting newborn (still a newborn if 12 pounds? pls advise) strapped to your chest and you wait in joyful and occasionally bored and jostled hope for a glimpse of him.
Of Peter. Of Christ’s Vicar on Earth, a tangible witness to God’s fatherly love.
If you’ve ever been remotely close to the pope – to any pope – you’ve felt it. You know what I’m talking about; it’s the grace of office. It’s the undeniable transformative action of the Holy Spirit on a humble, ordinary human being, a sinner like all the rest of us and “a son of the Church,” by his own admission.
And it’s awesome.
It’s a soul-level gut punch of love and joy and unbelievable conviction of the love God has for us.
And if you’re a mom, and this happens? Well, it’s less of a gut punch and more of a head on collision:
That’s my baby.
And that’s a blurry, imperfect picture of a priceless moment because I was crying and shaking and couldn’t fumble my phone up to take the shot, so my slightly-less-emotional friend caught this one. And I thank God that I couldn’t muster ye olde iPhone into firing position, because you know what? He looked right at me.
And while I locked eyes with Papa Francesco and yelled to him in broken Italian and English and snotty mom-tears my love and gratitude, I felt quite clearly that he was looking at me, too. That we were two people in a crowd of tens of thousands, but for a second we encountered one another.
I don’t mean that he was as excited to see me as I was to see him (though if you’re reading Papa? big fan.) but that for the moment he took to look into the eyes of the hysterical mother of the balding baby he’d just kissed, he allowed himself to be fully present. To me. And then to Dave. And then to every other countless other persons among the millions and millions in the crowds all week.
It was such a gift.
And while the ultimate souvenir of a papal smooch and photo op has now been bestowed upon our little family not once but twice, by two different popes on two different continents, the real treasure remains for me that moment of encounter.
I actually feel a deeper sense of appreciation for his pastoral approach now. I think I “get” Francis a little more than I did 30 hours ago.
(And, happily, I’ve gotten a few more pictures, too. So it’s a double edged sword, this technology of ours, because while I was free to soak up that moment of encounter, it was the generous efforts of fellow pilgrims in the crowd surrounding us who sacrificed something of their own encounters to capture the moment. And I’m so glad they did.)
Thank you, Papa Francesco. For coming to our country, for speaking your heart, and for kissing my baby. Check the roster at the NAC for Luke Uebbing in about 22 years. I have a feeling this encounter will leave its mark on him, too.