pope francis, master of the sound bite

Pope Francis’s jam-packed visit to the USA is over. Media outlets and Catholic journalists reported on every papal utterance and each small act. Commentators parsed each speech and homily to extrapolate hidden meanings. What was not said was sometimes as headline worthy as what was said.

With the social media platforms of today, the coverage quickly became overwhelming; like the proverbial drinking from a fire hydrant.

I enjoy writing, but I would make a lousy journalist. I can’t produce time sensitive pieces minutes after an event. My mind is not quick enough. I’m a ponderer. My favourite form of prayer is lectio divina; holy reading that focuses on a few words or a line, then chewing on them to discern their meaning and relevance to this moment in time. As I read and re-read the many speeches and homilies that the Pope gave in the USA, I find myself stopping to ponder yet another line, another simple but powerful phrase.

Many journalists use the approach of publishing “sound bites” to get the attention of their readers or listeners. The danger is that words can be (and often are) taken out of context and given more meaning (or a different meaning) than they intended.

Pope Francis is the master of the sound bite. He knows the value of an economy of words. In the third year of his papacy, the world now knows what issues are close to his heart; what issues he keeps returning to again and again. He speaks simply and clearly, and his message is becoming more and more unmistakable. And, when he speaks, the world listens.

For Francis, the church needs to be more inclusive and welcoming. It needs to be a church of encounter, not afraid to “get dirty” as it reaches out into the world. It needs to be focused more on living the words of Jesus than arguing over them. It needs to model true servant leadership not an exclusive, privileged hierarchy.

In the next few blog posts, I’d like to look more closely at some of the words spoken by Pope Francis on his American visit. For me, they speak louder and more effectively than long, dense, theological treatises. They are simple words that get to the core of what it means to not only be a Catholic, but to be a more compassionate woman or man in today’s world.

My heart goes out to the man himself. Pope Francis always seems energized by the crowds of people, but his schedule would have been daunting for many of us. I do hope that he has an opportunity for some serious rest before the marathon work of the Synod on the Family, which begins this weekend.