[WARNING: One of the side effects of reading the following may be a brief period of feeling somewhat good about things. It should pass by itself (just read any other article on The Daily Impact) but if it persists for more than four hours, please seek medical attention.]
I am not a Catholic. Not even a Christian, really, despite my admiration for the teachings of Christ; none of the organizations that profess to represent him seem to me to do so. I am not an atheist, it’s just that the God that I believe in is not the one they are all talking about. But as of today, I am a Papist.
One did not have to be American to be thrilled by Lincoln, or British to be energized by Winston Churchill, Democrat to be enthralled by Kennedy, or black to be moved by King. They transcended their labels and their time to speak eternal truths to all humanity. Pope Francis, for who he is and what he says — especially in his speech to the U.S. Congress last week — has joined their ranks. The TV commentator Van Jones made a similar confession the other day, and went further to say that he thought the Pope had ignited a Great Awakening of spirituality in this country. We’ll see whether the Awakening survives the Pope’s departure — whether the people instead resume their Great Nap — but something profound did happen here last week, something beyond Catholicism and even beyond religion.
For its structure, precise language and artfulness, the speech to the Congress was a masterpiece. Instead of the debating technique we’ve become used to — I’m right and you’re wrong, deluded, stupid, naive, criminal and damned to hell — Francis delivered the ultimate sucker punch by saying that you and I have duties together, and have struggles together, and we could do better. As he spoke, many members of Congress couldn’t figure out whether they should stand and clap, sit and scowl, or fall to their knees. To quote Van Jones again, the Pope “did not call anyone out, he called them up.”
The Pope’s position, in brief.
- Every one of us has “a common responsibility” toward our country, to help all its citizens grow — not in wealth or in GDP or in military might, but in compassion, security, freedom, peace and justice.
- Politicians have a similar mission, but with emphasis on “those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.” Legislators and leaders are called to protect the poor, not the Koch brothers.
- We must all guard against the “simplistic reductionism which sees only good and evil.” Fundamentalism “of any kind” leads to violence.
- “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to economy and finance.”
- We must change our ways to “avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”
The Pope was speaking to a group of people who have demonstrated for decades that their mission is to raise money, stay in office, protect the rich, screw the poor and screw the environment. Which makes the tone of what he said more remarkable than what he said.
As he did with the violent criminals he visited in their Philadelphia prison, Francis approached the Members of Congress as if they had no past, only a future which they could make bright; as if they deserved no judgment for their sins, only help in achieving their potential; as if they were not enemies to be feared, but friends to be hugged, and blessed.
That is how he treated us all, and one result was that on the final triumphant night, nearly a million people congregated in Philadelphia not to be stimulated by a rock band or thrilled by a ball game or angered by a charismatic politician, but to celebrate the mass with this humble priest to all the world. Their attendance there was not an act of politics, or even necessarily of religion. It was an act of decency.
Imagine if you can — a million decent people.
Makes me proud to be an American and a Papist.