Friday, September 25, 2015

Pope Francis Tells Congress What We Are Doing Right

... and thereby encourages us to do better


Pope Francis addresses the U.S. Congress
Photo by Win McNamee (Getty Images)

Pope Francis challenges political leaders by his commitment to the Gospel of Christ and Catholic social teaching. His embodiment of the church’s “preferential option for the poor” often upends the accepted social and economic structures of our day. Yet this Pope brings such hope wherever he goes and whenever he speaks, largely due to his pastoral approach.

That pastoral manner was evident yesterday when the Holy Father addressed a joint session of congress. He made a point in his opening remarks that though he was speaking to congress; his intent was to address the American people. His written work makes clear his stand on unfettered capitalism, care for the environment, care for the poor, and regard for all of life. Instead of lambasting, however, he was able to encourage a conflicted and strident nation by pointing out what was right about our country. (You can read the entire address here)

Pope Francis outlined his remarks to congress within the framework of four American lives: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.
  • Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that 'this nation, under God, might have a new birth of freedom'. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.”
  • Martin Luther King who led the march “from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his 'dream' of full civil and political rights for African Americans… Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.”
  • Dorothy Day for “her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed.”
  • Thomas Merton “who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”


Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God. Four representatives of the American people.


The Pope’s address to congress did speak to the social, economic, political, and environmental challenges of our day.  He encouraged us to do more, yet even with the many challenges ahead, he was able to place those within the context of our better angels, affirming that we have rejected the temptation to imitate tyrants in our attempt to be freed from tyranny.

A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

There can be no denying that this was a historic occasion in our nation’s capital. Some observers commented that they had never seen congress pay such close attention to any other person addressing that body. Let us hope that some sense of a striving for the common good will remain. Certainly those of us who take heart in efforts for justice and equity will be encouraged by this pastoral visit from Pope Francis.  Near the end of his address, the Pope reminded us of the examples he set out at the beginning:

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

After his address to congress, Pope Francis highlighted yet another thing we are doing right by forgoing lunch with politician in order to dine with the homeless outside St Patrick’s Catholic Church where Catholic Charities offers food and shelter for the homeless. 

Pope Francis with people at St. Maria's Meals Program of
Catholic Charities in Washington D.C. (CNS photo by Paul Haring)


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1 comment:

  1. A very good assessment of his words to Congress. He spoke with encouragement and hope, which are essential in the presenting of the Gospel. Good news it seems is hard to find these days when politics and even in the church people are polarized in their self-righteous attempts to prove their way is right. It is refreshing to see Pope Francis presenting himself in humility and with an authentic heart felt compassion in his presentation of the Good news.

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