Catholic Social Teaching Corner: The Pope’s Talk to Congress
October 14, 2015
The Catholic Social Teaching Corner is an occasional reflection by the Promoter of Social Justice of the Province of St. Joseph, Fr. Francis Belanger, O.P., on the Church’s social doctrine as applied to current issues and events. Coretta Scott King commented on her husband’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech that, albeit briefly, “… it seemed as if the Kingdom of God appeared.” Perhaps a similar sentiment could be expressed about Pope Francis’ speech to Congress during his recent visit to the U.S. It was a marvel to see members of our representative government, of all different political stripes, warmly welcoming the Pope and applauding his words. His proclamation of the Kingdom included an urgent call for dialogue, a message that confounded partisanship, and the evocation of the Golden Rule as a principle of statecraft. The need for dialogue was a key theme of Pope Francis’ speech, and he used the American Trappist Thomas Merton, known for his interfaith outreach, as an example. Merton was, the Pope pointed out, “a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.” Dialogue has been a consistent emphasis in the magisterium at least since the encyclical Ecclesiam Suam of Blessed Paul VI in 1964. Counter-balanced with a rejection of relativism, true dialogue combines fidelity to the truth with a respectful engagement of interlocutors. It is based on the dignity of every human person and inspired by the grave need for peace. “When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue … new opportunities open up for all.” John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown, got to the heart of another lesson about the Pope’s speech. Carr attended as a guest and had this to say in a piece called “A View From the Gallery” for America: Democrats clapped earlier, longer and more often for his words about welcoming immigrants, protecting the environment, caring for the poor and pursuing dialogue over conflict in foreign affairs. Republicans led the applause on the defense of human life, family and religious liberty. Thus laid out in the stark terms was a basic truth of Catholic social thought: the full message of the Gospel is not owned by either side. The duty for preachers, as shown by the Pope, is to convert people in the areas where they are not applauding and support them where they are. For Catholics, being the “salt of the earth” means being a little politically uncomfortable. We are not fully at home in either party. With disarming simplicity, the holy father reminded the legislators of the applicability of the Golden Rule to political life: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). Pope Francis proposed a kind of simple manifesto: “If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.” Too often people can fail to see the Golden Rule as applying to political life and international affairs in just the same way as it applies to personal life. The Pope referred directly to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, immigration in the United States, and “our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” For one day last month, the Vicar of Christ was the Speaker of the House (and Senate). The Kingdom of God, insofar as it pertains to political life, was certainly manifested, if only partially. It is a Kingdom of unity among all God’s children – of different parties, and nations, and social circumstances. It is “a kingdom of justice, love, and peace”, to use words from the Liturgy. May Catholics, by engaging in dialogue, transcending mere partisanship and injecting the Golden Rule into politics, be instruments of the coming of the Kingdom.
Image: Norman Rockwell, Freedom to Worship, 1943.