One of the most talked about incidents during the Pope's visit to my area, happened right after the Holy Father landed at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County, Maryland. The Pope got off his airplane. He greeted the Cardinals, the priests, and the President of the United States. He smiled at the crowds. Then, Pope Francis got into a Fiat, a small, four door, Italian manufactured car and drove away.
The decision of Pope Francis to get into a Fiat instead of a traditional limousine sparked a lot of interest on social media. At first I felt a little out of the loop. All straight Catholics love the virtue of poverty. It's not like my previous Popes, Saint John Paul II, or Pope Emeritus Benedict, were against poverty and a spirit of detachment. Saint John Paul II survived slave labor under the Natzi occupation of Poland, and Pope Emeritus Benedict lived on something like a cup of soup a day in a WWII Prisioner of War Camp and later went to seminary in a bombed out building that used a ladder in place of a central staircase. Moreover, there is something to be said for the spiritual of humility of a Pope that accepts the ordinary transportation provided by a host country, particularly one that is freaked out about another terrorist attack after 9/11 .
Yet Pope Francis' entry into the United States was different. I don't know what kind of intense negotation went behind the scenes of the joint security team of the Swiss Guards, the Secret Service and the Metropolitian Police Department, but I'm sure there were many security people who were not exicted that the Pope wanted to ride in Downtown Washington D.C. inside a humble Fiat. The Pope stood his ground. In the end, there was no dangerous assassination attempt (Thank you Mary!) and the social media got to rejoice with an amazing picture of a smiling Pope looking out of the side car window of an Italian Fiat.
I have watched hours of the Pope coverage last week. I've prayed along side my family. I got to cheer on the Pope briefly in person. Yet my most important take-away message from the Papal Visit happened inside a closed event that I didn't attend.
My Pope got into a Fiat.
What I learned from that event is that if I work very hard to conform my life to Christ, then I can be free to express my individual spirituality in unique ways.
It's an "if, then" statement that we learned about in logic class. The two motions are closely united. I have to work hard to bring my heart in union with Christ. I need to go to Mass. I need to go to Confession frequently. I need to pray hard. I need to diligently work on my ordinary, boring daily work that is encompassed in my vocation.
However, if I do that hard daily work for God, then the Holy Father tells me that I can be confident to make unconvential choices that make many people around me uncomfortable. Pope Francis got into a Fiat, even though ever Pope ahead of him had entered a limousine. He lives inside the Vatican Hotel, even though ever Pope ahead of him had lived inside the Papal Apartments. The Pope made 14 of his 18 speeches in Spanish, even though a lot of Americans are still fluent in only one language, English.
I don't knot what "Be Brave and Get Into A Fiat" means yet in my own personal vocation of marriage. I know that my life does not look like many good Catholic women around me, even though we all attend the same Mass each Sunday. I'm inspired to find out. The world needs more joy and more personal expression of a common and centuries old spirituality.
Thank you, Pope Francis for inspiring me to dream!