I was listening to my usual dose of NPR yesterday morning. If you're not living under a rock currently, you know that American news coverage at the moment is all Pope Francis, all the time (a huge improvement from other unmentioned figures currently in the limelight). NPR was running a segment on Pope Francis meeting with homeless individuals through Catholic charities in D.C.—an activity he opted for in lieu of meetings with Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and others. I'm not Catholic, but hearing that made me grin.
I thought, How incredible of him—those people may not have jobs, but they'll get to tell their grandkids they saw the Pope.
And then William Smith, one of the homeless individuals at the meeting, said words that immediately brought tears to my eyes:
"He came here to see us."
Of course. That's the beauty. That's why this is transformative, and that's why Pope Francis is confusing and incredible and the antithesis of our understanding of celebrity. He didn't come to be seen, he came to see us.
* * *
I heard this quote in my car, driving home from a walk along the river with a dear friend. She had been telling me about her decision to halt church-going for a while intentionally, to heal from a mindset of religiosity that was strangling her. She told me, "Here's the thing: how am I supposed to tell someone God loves them when I don't ever remember feeling like He loves me?"
I felt the weight of those words as she spoke them, and I knew I didn't have an answer. How do we feel and experience God's love? How do we know—in our hearts, not our heads—that He loves us?
When William Smith, self-described addict and homeless man, said those words on NPR from a white tent somewhere in Washington, D.C., I had one of those moments of knowing. In my heart, not my head, I know God said, "Hey—I came to see you. I'm a big deal, and there's a lot of me to see. But I came to see you."