A church, no. A house of worship, yes.
My almost five year old daughter, Norah, and I watched Pope Francis address a joint session of Congress last week (a.k.a. his “Sermon on the Hill”). I love the pomp and circumstance of a State of the Union address, and I enjoy “high church” done well. So I didn’t want to miss the historic moment of the two things you’re never supposed to talk about in public together on the main stage: religion and politics.
“…he’s operating on a different axis. We normally do politics on a horizontal axis. He’s doing a vertical axis… he’s a radically countercultural figure. And we talk about self-interest. He’s about selfless love.”
After his speech, Francis went to the balcony of the Capitol to greet over 50,000 people, I got a little choked up when he started praying for the children, whom he called the most important people here:
“Father of all, bless these. Bless each of them. Bless the families. Bless them all. And I ask you all please to pray for me.”
I was holding Norah in my lap by this point, and I could see her out of the corner of my eye, staring at me and wondering why my eyes had tears.
Without looking away from me, she asked, “What’s he saying, Daddy?”
“He’s praying for all the children, and asking the people to pray for him,” I said.
The shepherd of the Catholic church, asking the people to pray for him.
Later in the day, the Washington Post ran a story of the Speaker of the House telling what happened inside the Capitol rotunda:
“When he gets here, there are all of these kids he is going to bless…. So, the Pope puts his arm around my left arm [and says] ‘Please pray for me.’ ”
The shepherd of the Catholic church, asking the leader of the People’s House to pray for him.
I’ve noticed this pattern, going back to his first address the night he was elected Pope:
“Before [I bless] the people, I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me…”
As Francis asked both the people and the power to pray for him, I was reminded that we are all equal before the throne of God.
And I had to ask, “How big is my ego and pride? As a local church pastor, why don’t I ask everyone to pray for me?”
Later that day, we went to visit our friends from out of town at their hotel. Norah went to sit on the curb while we unloaded our car, but instead sat on a fire ant hill. Her screams were so rapid, so loud… I thought she had been run over. A stranger ran over with a cold bottle of water to pour on her legs, and the hotel staff brought burn cream. She had over a dozen bites on her thighs and between her toes.
After she calmed down, we went to the pool. She doesn’t know how to swim yet, and before she could get her life jacket on, she fell in the water over her head. We immediately pulled her out, but it really scared her.
“Daddy, I almost drowned-ed,” she moped.
But once she calmed down and put her jacket on, she was ready to go again. She ran around to the other side of the pool, but tripped and fell face first into a deck chair, slicing the muscle inside her cheek, around to the outside of her mouth where her top and bottom lips meet.
The long wait in the emergency room.
A plastic surgeon was called in to stitch her mouth back together, but not after I held her down so they could open an IV line to sedate her.
During the long wait, I posted what was happening on Facebook for our family and friends. Norah blank-stared at my phone why I’ll tapped the keys.
“Is there anything you want me to tell them?” I asked.
Between a mouth full of beach towel to stop the bleeding, she mumbled, “Please ask the people to pray for me.”
I’d like to think the seed of her request was rooted in what she heard Pope Francis say that morning. I believe it was.
I’m thinking of making that my signature:
Please pray for me,
We expect our pastors to have it all together. But we don’t.
We all try our best to look like we have it all together. But we don’t.
I often use prayer as triage and travel insurance: What are the medical issues facing me or those I love, and “traveling mercies” for my next trip (so I don’t end up in the hospital needing prayer).
But I never seem to ask for prayers for my mental health, my thoughts, my doubts, my temptations… or my soul.
These are wounded and hurt just as much, if not more. A slice to my soul leaves a deep scar just like a slice to my skin.
But as God’s people, we are never too powerful to stop asking for prayer.
May I have faith like a child… and a Pope… to always ask: Please pray for me.