Even though I get some gentle ribbing from my friends and family for my harmless, idiosyncratic habit, I stay watching television shows and movies until the last credit disappears. I figure as long as all those usually anonymous folks contributed to the final presentation, the least I can do is take notice of their names—even for a nanosecond. Plus, selfishly, the credits often reveal information about the location, music, and other incidentals that I would not know otherwise.
So it was that my tendency to stay to the very end of a production led to this reflection based on a gratifying ah-ha moment when the Holy Father was aboard the plane that carried him back to Rome from the United States. Here’s how the revelation unfolded.
As one network after another ceased coverage of the Papal farewell, undaunted, I searched for a channel that continued showing the events from the Philadelphia airport, even after the aircraft’s doors were shut, with the Holy Father visibly seated inside, drinking some water. Eureka! At a certain moment in the ongoing coverage, a pan of the airplane, immobile on the tarmac before take-off, showed a colorful symbol-image visible on the plane’s fuselage, to the right of the main cabin door.
“IHS” Those three letters at the top of the shield within the symbol-image caught my attention. Having been privileged to attend daily Mass, as well as annual retreats at a certain religious retreat house, I knew what those letters spelled: Jesus. Although those three letters are not the private property of any one religious group, given that they are the symbol for the order in whose retreat house I had been “spiritualized,” I suspected what those letters meant: the Jesuits had something to do with that symbol-image!
With the first Jesuit Pope aboard the plane, I wondered: Could that image-symbol be the Papal coat of arms? A quick Internet search confirmed my assumption. A comparison between the image on the plane’s fuselage and the image on the Internet were identical. The symbol-image was, indeed, Pope Francis’ Papal Coat of Arms.
Putting aside further reading, I redirected my full attention to the television screen, watching and listening to the coverage. Among the final comments made by the secular commentators were their observations that the Holy Father had seemed to them the most relaxed, spontaneous, and “at home” during his USA trip when he participated in the World Meeting of Families. How much the Pope seemed truly to love families, they observed.
Finally, when the Pope’s ascending plane was devoured by the night sky, and when every available station had resumed normal programming, I felt the same kind of sadness I feel each Ascension Thursday…. It’s a grieving sadness I feel forty days after Easter for Someone Who is gone, even though I understand the Lord’s rationale for why He had to return to the Father so that the Holy Spirit could come among us, and His promise that He never would leave us orphan, and that He is present in His Church and in the Holy Eucharist. …I turned off the television. The Pope was gone. ..And yet he stays.
Turning my attention back to the online image of the Papal coat of arms, I reminded myself of the meaning of IHS—the first three letter of the name “Jesus,” when spelled in Greek. (How I love to reverse those initial two letters in response; to see in them: that I am HIS.)
There were two more coat-of-arm shield images to explore. Thinking that the fruit on the bottom right of the Papal symbol were grapes, as in a Eucharistic symbol, I was surprised to read that the image represented an aromatic plant, called spikenard, which is a symbol of St. Joseph in his role as the Patron of the Church. Not thinking that the multi-pointed star had meaning other than as a shape, I was surprised to read that it stood for the Blessed Virgin Mary, in her role as the Mother of Jesus and of His Church.
At that moment, before even reading how the words at the bottom of the crest translated into English from Latin, I had the ah-ha moment. Are you having it vicariously now, too? Top to bottom; left to right: the three symbols on the shield stood for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Pope Francis’ Papal Coat of Arm displays a shield that is, indeed, a Family Crest: A Holy Family Coat of Arms!
What more did I need to read? The symbols of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph on the shield, which is positioned below the symbols of the Papacy (keys, miter, and cord), capture the Pope’s love for human families, which is rooted in his love for the Holy Family. The Holy Father’s love–the Church’s love–for both families is constantly is affirmed whenever the Papal coat of arms is on display.
So that is why I am glad that I stayed with the Pope’s USA television coverage until the very end. If I hadn’t been intent on staying with the Papal departure until the stations returned to regular programming, I honestly don’t know if or when the Papal coat of arms would have caught my attention. Does it matter? It matters to me that every time I think of the Pope and what matters enough to him to make it the shield of His Papacy, I know I’m in his thoughts and prayers; I’m twice blessed—I’m part of the human family and part of his faith family which he loves so much!
Oh, and in case you are wondering, according to Vatican Radio, the Latin words at the bottom of the coat of arms “miserando atque eligendo,” which express the Pope’s motto, translate to “’by having mercy, by choosing him.” So now, although the Holy Father is gone from our shores, we stay united with him, and thank God for the gift of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, a gift from the Church through the Holy Father–through one who acknowledges the mercy of God in his own life–a gift that will commence on December 8th, under the watchful eyes of the Mother of Mercy, the Mother of the Church.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, protect the Holy Father, as he defends us for and with your Holy Family. Be our shield in these difficult days for the human family and for domestic-church families of faith. We trust in your mercy, knowing you will not abandon us. Please give us the Grace not to abandon You or Your visible head on Earth–Holy Father Francis, our Pope.