A reflection for Campus Ministry:
I remember vividly where I was on March 13, 2013, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope. I was living with some Jesuits in downtown Baltimore, Maryland, and when the white smokes blew on that Wednesday afternoon, we were filled with a sense of hope and joy. Along with the surprise and excitement of a new Pope, Bergoglio’s decision to pick Francis as his papal name mirrored what Saint Francis of Assisi most commonly represents: peace, joy, and comfort. The election of Pope Francis was a spiritually high moment for me for many reasons, and the most obvious was the witness of those around me being proud to be a Catholic. Everyone can claim, “Francis is my Pope.”
We all have these spiritually high moments or mountaintop experiences; every one of us has moments we can recall of great happiness and joy, a great sense of peace and meaning that come into our lives. As we look back on these moments, how many times do we just want to hold on to them? “They are so wonderful. I hate to see them end,” we say. To hold on to this joy, happiness, and peace is a gut-instinct we all have. We hold on even stronger when we don’t think other experiences can top them, or when we don’t trust that they can ever happen again. In a spiritual sense, as good as it is to hold on to something wonderful – a love that is freely given, an experience of life that gives us new meaning to our lives – we ultimately have to let them go. We eventually have to go down the mountain. But we let go of our experiences so that something new can be realized. We are blessed with moments on the mountain. We are blessed with new insights about our lives. We are blessed constantly with the joy and happiness we share with each other. That should give us a sense that if this is good, then everything will be ok.
As I reflect on how Pope Francis has impacted my life, I am reminded of this spiritually high moment. My life is a constant roller coaster journey of mountaintop experiences and deep valley struggles. But what “my Pope” represents to me is hope and joy. No matter how bad a situation is, no matter how busy I am, no matter how difficult a relationship is, there is hope--the hope that everything will be ok because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I remember what it was like to be there. The revelations from these mountaintop experiences put in perspective the deep valley struggles. I believe that Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. will be another mountaintop experience that I can recall to help me realize the perspective of my joys and sorrows. “We are pilgrims along the way,” writes James Martin, S.J., and Pope Francis has been an influenced companion for me, a constant reminder of “The Joy of the Gospel.”
Nhat Nguyen is the Rector of Duncan Hall.