He’s coming to America

He’s one of the most instantly recognizable public figures on planet Earth. He leads a worldwide organization of more than a billion strong. He was Time magazine’s 2013 Person of the Year. And he’s coming to America.

No, I’m not talking about Neil Diamond. I’m talking about Pope Francis, and he’ll be visiting the U.S. for the first time this fall for the World Meeting of Families, which will take place in Philadelphia from Sept. 22-27.

Started by Saint John Paul II in 1994 and held every three years, the World Meeting of Families is one of the world’s largest gatherings of families. Each World Meeting of Families centers on a particular theme, which informs and enlivens the event. This year’s theme is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.”

So why this theme? Why a mission of love? What does it mean for the family to be fully alive?

There’s a reason Pope Francis is one of the most beloved human beings on the face of the planet: he emanates the love of God. There’s also a reason Pope Francis and the church he shepherds focus so intensely on the meaning and importance of marriage and family: it’s from our mother and father and within our family that we first learn how to receive love and how to love others in return.

Pope Francis lives and preaches a very specific kind of love — the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35).

If Jesus calls us to love and promises that it will be challenging, then we can be sure that authentic love is no mere emotion. Emotions may certainly be involved, but love at its best requires heroically virtuous action.

The family has traditionally been known as the “school of virtue,” the place where discipline is fortified and values take root. If the world is to have love in ample supply, it must be cultivated and lived out in families. Simply put, our families must be fully alive. Saint John Paul II said it best: “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

Pope Francis recognizes that countless marriages and families are struggling today. He knows that society is worse off as a result. That’s why he’s attending this year’s World Meeting of Families and why he’s called a Church Synod on the Family, to be held this coming October.

In preparation for these important events in the life of the church and society, St. Patrick Church is proud to present an interactive study on the church’s uplifting vision for marriage and family life. If you’ve been captivated by the simple yet profound witness of Pope Francis, if you’ve found what the world preaches on sex and marriage to be hollow and sterile, if you’ve pondered how the love of Jesus Christ can be lived more completely in your own home, please join us for this timely study.

The “Love is our Mission” book study will be held on the second and fourth Thursday of the month, beginning Thursday, June 11, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Saint Patrick parish center, 61 S. Union St., London. It will run through late September. Those of all faiths and goodwill are welcome. Love is our mission, and it is by loving God and one another that we will be more fully alive.

For more information on “Love is our Mission,” contact Denise Zimmerman at dzimmer740@gmail.com.

Brendan Shea and his family are parishioners of St. Patrick Church. He can be reached at brendan.shea7@gmail.com.