Expectations on the Journey



By Our Travel Contributor, Alex Gonzales

I must have expected him to drive really close and make eye contact. He would come up to me and grab my face. Pope Francis would spontaneously point me out in the crowd and bless me. #shoutout Everyone would laugh and be awed. I would make not only American but international news. It would be a holy memory I would have for the rest of my life.

But expectations can crush us, and not just when people pin them to us but when we expect too much from others.

To be honest, a no-expectations, no-plans policy is the best advice I could give anyone, practically and spiritually speaking. The thing about not having expectations is that it leaves room for surprise, and Jesus loves surprises. I mean think about it…after no luck fishing for an entire day, Jesus tells the disciples to throw the net to the other side of the boat, and surprise-they catch hundreds of fish. Lazarus dies, then Jesus calls to him, and Lazarus awakens and rises from death. Jesus is tortured, hung on a cross to die, and placed in a tomb, and then three days later astonishes all of humanity with his resurrection. He's like the Gotchya King. Every single Sunday, I still find myself in utter amazement that Jesus would humble himself to bread and wine. Jesus has this surprise thing down. Jesus Christ, through his life and death, crushes expectations and its false hopes, and surprises us with the reality of true love. 

It is fitting that Pope Francis came to America because he has been my model lately for no-expectations. Everywhere Pope Francis goes, all the events he partakes in, he always has the audience and the world on its toes in anticipation and surprise at what he is going to do next. This Pope has a sense of humor and he has a spirit of joy and humility. During his ride through the streets of Philadelphia, he threw his head back in laughter and stopped the pope-mobile to hold and laugh at a baby dressed like him. He has captivated the world and taken it by storm because of his spontaneity and surprises. The world is stunned and is not expecting a man like him to be leading a Church that is so “strict, harsh, condemning.” And yet his surprises are not only joyful and humorous, but also shocking. Addressing Congress, he made several points that some Democrats disagreed with but Republicans applauded, and points that Republicans disagreed with but Democrats applauded. He surprised Americans by visiting the Little Sisters of the Poor. This Pope aims to shatter secular expectations with truth and love just as Jesus does.

Traveling to any place, expectations are hard to avoid. We want assurance that things will work out. We want our schedule to go according to plan. Yet as Pope Francis aims to be Christ-like, he makes it evident that life is not meant to be planned and to work out perfectly. Yes, eternal life is guaranteed, and in placing our lives in Christ’s hands, we discover true happiness, but we are misguided if we believe life is meant to fulfill our expectations. We must let Christ surprise us and lead us.

I left for the Philadelphia Papal Mass at midnight on a bus with fifty hyper college students with no expectations at all, except that my feet would be in dire pain by the end of it (they were). Nevertheless, when traveling without expectations does not mean that situations will be ideal. For instance, I did not calculate that I would be walking 10 miles. I did not even think about the fact that I would have to stand in one place for five hours straight. I did not expect to encounter some pushy and inconsiderate people. I especially did not expect that the Pope would drive by so quickly that he could not look to our side of the street in time, and that I would not even be able to see the mass from the Jumbo-tron because of the amount of people present.

However, all of these unexpected events led to a humbling crescendo of what the day was really about. During the distribution of the Eucharist, thinking I was too far away to receive, from the corner of my eye came Vatican flag umbrellas with priests holding the precious Body underneath each one. Just when I did not expect it, Jesus literally and physically came through to surprise me and bless me. Those bright Vatican flag umbrellas moving through the crowds made me realize what the trip was all about. Dropping all expectations to have my mind clear to embrace Communion, despite the circumstances, was the sole reason that such a tiresome day became one of the most humbling. The World Meeting of Families Mass in Philadelphia was not about seeing Pope Francis. It was about receiving Jesus Christ.