It’s a pretty good bet that if 300,000 people walked by your house in the space of an hour you would notice it. Yet here in New York City, where everything is just bigger and louder, some of us almost missed the calvacade of climate change activists bounding by our headquarters last weekend. We knew the march was coming, of course, but it hadn’t fully penetrated our consciousness—much like climate change itself, I regret to say. It’s the topic on all of our minds and yet one of those things we rarely talk about. The global climate appears to be changing faster than our politics.
At the same time, I sense some momentum. Many of the protesters at the New York march came from far-flung countries. It was the largest and most diverse march of its kind ever. In politics, we used to call that kind of momentum “the big Mo’”—the invisible, unquantifiable, powerful force created by a succession of wins or other events that break your way. In a spiritual context, the big Mo’ is often a movement of the spirit. On climate change, in addition to the mass movement now forming, it may take a dramatic divine gesture to get the world to act.
The Holy Spirit has been pretty active in the church these days as well. Everywhere I travel there are signs of the Holy Spirit at work: greater openness, greater freedom, greater generosity. People in general seem less afraid, more hopeful. That is the telltale sign of a Kairos moment, a time when God enters into events in a dramatically new way. It’s no accident, I think, that this Kairos moment comes on the heels of a moment of deep despair, of scandal, the most wrenching period in the life of the contemporary church. It’s important to remember that no human being is creating this moment. If it is a Kairos moment, then it is a movement of the Holy Spirit. Like the rest of us, Pope Francis is merely a participant in this moment, even if his participation is more dramatic and far-reaching.
Another participant in this Kairos moment is the new archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich, the current bishop of Spokane. The pope’s choice of him to be the ninth archbishop of Chicago surprised many, including the new archbishop himself, who told reporters on Sept. 20 that he was “quite overwhelmed and very surprised” when he received the news in mid-September. Bishop Cupich rightly cautioned against reading too much into his appointment. “I think the Holy Father is a pastoral man. I think that his priority is not to send a message but to send a bishop and that is what he is sending here,” he told reporters.
When asked about the church’s sexual abuse scandal, Bishop Cupich praised the leadership of the outgoing archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, citing his work to implement a nationwide zero tolerance policy. “He was the one who made it happen in the discussions in Rome. He is the one who pressed for it more than anybody,” Bishop Cupich said. Bishop Cupich wrote last year in these pages that Pope Francis “reveals himself as a fresh witness of the Gospel, who is stirring our hearts to take up the journey with him as a fellow disciple with new vigor and purpose.” That is an apt description of how we should all respond to this Kairos moment, for while we are all mere participants, God couldn’t do it without us. In fact, without us, he wouldn’t need to do it at all.
Bishop Cupich is a long-time friend and contributor to America. He goes to Chicago with our best wishes and fervent prayers. He will need the prayers of all of us as he assumes responsibility for the church in the nation’s third largest city, much bigger than the diocese he leaves behind. In fact, the diocese of Spokane is about a third of the size of the crowd that walked passed my house last weekend.