Pope Francis and Political Vision

Pope Francis speaking to CongressSo, Pope Francis has come and gone from America and his visit left me with a question. Why did our politicians want to be seen hobnobbing with the pontiff? The cynic in me says they only wanted to bask in his reflected glory. After all, Celebrity draws a crowd, and the pope’s celebrity shines brightly these days.

Which of us wouldn’t want to show off a selfie with the pope to our friends? I imagine the temptation being even stronger among our elected officials, many of whom can now boast to their constituencies about their selfies with the pope.

Not saying anything’s wrong with a selfie. Just asking myself why. Why the warm handshakes with Pope Francis on the steps of St. Partick’s Cathedral offered by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio? And what was all that schmoozing about? And earlier the same day, why were our representatives in Congress reaching out to touch Someone as he entered that historic political arena and ambled to the podium to speak, where for more than an hour he was flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner?

That all four of these politicians are Roman Catholic, although DeBlasio admits to being non-practicing, is beside the point. Behind my question is the hope that our politicians have taken to heart the moral challenges Pope Francis has gently preached on our shores. I hope they took the challenges personally, as individuals, and politically, as values and truths to influence policies and law-making. I hope that is what they were saying to the pope during all their schmoozing with him during his visit.

Yet here’s where I need to beat back the cynic. Pope Francis’s moral challenges were so softly put, but with conviction, that I wonder if anyone even heard him, as used as we are to our nation’s constant polemical clamor.

Central to Pope Francis’s message to us, not to mention his personal witness, was his  pastoral challenge that we build together on common ground. This pope is a Jesuit, but no matter what you think about the Jesuit principle of tolerance, taking up this challenge is key for mending the divided America of our time. This pope gets that.

Congress schmoozong Pope FrancisSpeaking directly to the 535 member of Congress, Pope Francis explained that “the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good . . . is the chief aim of all politics.” A political society endures when it seeks “to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people.”

Mind you, this is not about some wimpish togetherness, nor does it mean loss of individuality amid a sea of collectivism via a dictated uniformity. Working together on common ground for common good entails being responsible citizen-stewards of a human mutuality derived from being made as individuals in the image of God. It is a vision that avoids the obstructionism of rigid ideological interests and instead aids and abets a unity in our diversity. Admitting difference, it respectfully pulls together for mutual good. This pope gets that.

Is this too much vision to ask of our politicians? To quote Ringo, you know it don’t come easy. To quote the pope, “Politics” is an expression of “our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.”

That is what I hope our politicians had ears to hear. America will not get better if our elected officials stay on their current course of bitter polemics and obstructionist politics.

But let’s not point the finger. America cannot get better only from the top down. America also needs change for the better from the bottom up, with me and with you, in how we treat each other in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities. That will then spread into our state capitals and across the land to Washington. Without that vision, all we will have left is our selfies. This pope gets that, too.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

This editorial was first published in The Mountain Press, Sunday Oct. 11, 2015.

Charles Strohmer is a frequent writer on politics, religion, and international relations. He is the author of several books and many articles and is the founding director of The Wisdom Project.

Top image from CNN. Lower image from USA Today.


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