Joy in the Vatican
I’m confident that the highlight of Pope Francis’s recent meeting with members of the Papal Foundation at the Vatican was a little foster boy named Noah. Fresh off his baptism into the Catholic Church back home in California, Noah and his soon-to-be adoptive family were invited to the Vatican to sit in on the meeting of the Papal Foundation, which works to help needy people all around the world by giving money to projects personally selected by the pope.
When we look at the numerous crises in the world — and the problems in our own lives and the lives of our families and others close to us — it is so easy to be tempted to despair. Suicide is on the increase, especially among young people. Headlines tell of a mental-health crisis. The recent pandemic has taken a toll that we’re only beginning to understand.
In his remarks at the meeting, Pope Francis focused on a way out of the despair that such thoughts can bring. “As we celebrate the Lord’s victory over sin and death and his gift of new life in this holy season of Easter, it is my hope that the joy of the resurrection will always fill your hearts.”
The Reality of Easter
Young Noah dressed in a little suit in the Clementine Hall in the Vatican was a living icon of the reality of Easter. His early life, before adoption, was, to say the least, hard. Given the circumstances, he really shouldn’t be alive. And yet, despite everything, he’s still here, providing a blessing and an example to everyone he meets. I’m biased — Noah is my godson — but to hold him in your arms is to see the truth of God’s love for the world.
I don’t know what was going through the mind of Pope Francis walking into the hall to meet with the Papal Foundation. There’s reason to believe that wealthy Catholics, many of them from the United States, aren’t his favorite people to hang out with. And yet, I wonder if seeing Noah reminded him of why we are here: to love. And what is better than a joyful baby to remind us of that and make us want to love and believe that joy is possible — and the best way to live?
Before the he went to the Vatican, after his baptism at the parish church of Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded by St. Junipero Serra in Orange County, California, Noah was — amazingly — all smiles and giggles. (I needed caffeine to deal with the time difference!) There is no reason to believe, of course, that he knew what we were doing with all those people smiling at him at church, but, goodness, his demeanor sure reflected the rejoicing that Easter and the life of Christianity ought to bring if Christians really believe it is all true! (And what’s the point if it’s not?)
How the world might come to love God if we would allow ourselves to embrace even a small bit of Noah’s uncontrollable joy that day. The Bible instructs us to be childlike, and I think recognizing the wonder and the beauty that’s inherent in life is a big part of that. Pope Francis talks about the joy of the Gospel a lot — incessantly, even. As he was leaving his meeting with the Papal Foundation and friends, he gave an enthusiastic smile and wave to little Noah. He was acknowledging the beauty of the pure heart of a child. And one — in Noah’s case, a child who has experienced resurrection in more than one way already.
Despair will never have the last word.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. She can be contacted at [email protected].