The Pope Speaks to Congress

I watched the livestream of Pope Francis’ address to Congress this morning and hope many of you did as well. You can read the text of his talk in its entirety here, and I encourage you to do so.

Many people will be parsing, summarizing and analyzing the speech and I do not plan to do so here. Let me just mention a couple of things that struck me.

First, the Pope picked named four Americans in our history who “shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people.” The four were Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. He identified these “sons and daughters of America as embodying four dreams: liberty (Lincoln), equality (King), social justice (Day) and capacity for dialogue and openness to growth (Merton).

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.

I confess I was particularly thrilled with the inclusion of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, both heroes of mine. My hope is that their mention by the Pope will create a broader interest in the lives, works and writing of both Day and Merton.

Second, there was a great emphasis on dialogue in Pope Francis’ address and a warning against the kind of divisiveness that has characterized American politics and encouragement of the renewal of a spirit of cooperation. He warned of the need to guard against the temptation of “the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.” Rather, he suggested that “[t]he 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.” Our goals should not be “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers: but rather to reject violence and hatred in favor of “hope and healing, of peace and justice.” The Pope’s words on dialogue, cooperation and avoidance of divisiveness are as important for each of us as they are for members of Congress.

There were a number of important issues mentioned by the Pope, such as capital punishment (he repeated his call for global abolition of the death penalty), the family (which he suggested is now “threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without”) the environment (he made reference to his recent Encyclical and our need to protect our home). If you missed the live coverage of the address, I encourage you to read it.

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4 thoughts on “The Pope Speaks to Congress

  1. You can also listen to a recording at the U. S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) website. Although challenging us to live up to our history of freedom and responsibility to promote the common good, the Pope offered gentle and specific suggestions. These were words of love not condemnation! Bravo Pope Francis.

  2. Throughout time and across all cultures, a knot has been used to symbolize tension and struggle. The undoing of a knot symbolizes freedom from these burdens – a release of pressure. In the tradition of Mary, Undoer of Knots, Pope Francis’ favorite artwork, visitors of the grotto will be able to add or remove knots, symbolizing their personal struggles and sharing the burdens of others. (Project Home)

    The Prayer to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots
    “Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exists in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life. You know very well how desperate I am, my pain, and how I am bound by these knots. Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of His children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life. No one, not even the Evil One himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands, there is no knot that cannot be undone. Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with your Son and my liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot. (Mention your petition here.) I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all. You are my hope. O my Lady, you are the only consolation God gives me, the fortification of my feeble strength, the enrichment of my destitution, and, with Christ, the freedom from my chains. Hear my plea. Keep me, guide me, protect me, O safe refuge.” (Project Home, World Meeting of Families)

    Today’s families are struggling in ways both ancient and contemporary and from a Catholic perspective births out of wedlock, absentee parents (mostly fathers), joblessness, homelessness, addiction, including to the internet and personal digital devices, to some extent social and mass media, and other social pressures have contributed to the struggles.

    Many struggle nearly as much to heed Pope Francis’ words and grow closer in topics of disagreement. . .

    For years, the traditional nuclear family has been in triage, pulled at, contorted, fractured and in need of intensive care. Have contraceptive uses, abortion, and vows broken contributed to family destabilization and decline? Definitely, Yes! The major reasons? Definitely, Not!

    In industrialized societies, where information, design, resource, manufacturing, and robotics technologies (and in the United States where the costs of higher education is nearly fostering a ‘caste system’ society) have contributed to an assault on ‘Mother Earth’ and the decline of a middle class – Why has ‘Holy Mother Church’ maintained a fixation on promoting more Life than our planet can sustain while struggling to sustain their own (along with many other organizations) wonderful ‘safety net’ of charitable organizations that far too many of our global brothers and sisters must rely upon for the basic necessities of Life?

    For years the Roman Church has advocated family planning, taught family planning – taught natural family planning. Just as the Church demands its members be open to life, why not allow families to trust God and their faith that (through a devoted prayer life and, if so chosen, the responsible use of contraceptives) they ‘may’ be blessed with two biological children and may their hearts continue to remain open to adoption of children at risk and in need?

    Is there not harmony to be sought that unites instead of separates?

    Abortion is a choice few make casually, and for those that do, might not effort and resources be better allocated, than to preach, protest with placards in front of abortion clinics and organize marches to ban all abortions. Pope Francis has urged his bishops and priests to not stand waiting at open doors to welcome and meet their flock but themselves to journey forth to meet their flock, other flocks and those of no flock, in the streets, buildings and homes of communities where they are called to serve.

    Is it not better to more tirelessly (as nuns and laity often do), especially in their own communities, offer and promote affirmation, activities and counselling to youth and young adults at risk – And when necessary, provide love and support (including financial) to women and their husbands, partners and children, remaining with them every step of the way through an unplanned pregnancy and helping with decisions and opportunities to keep their newborn or place their new life for adoption?

    One Papal visit covered and commented on so diversely. . .

    Moments after Pope Francis’ speech before the UN (that more definitively affirmed the Church’s positions on the family and all stages of life than the speech given before the Joint Meeting of Congress), the zeal of culling, categorizing and queuing language to articulate conservative doctrinal interpretations had already begun.

    The dialogue Pope Francis espouses be damned, doctrine need be defended. . .

    At the conclusion of Saturday’s Mass in Philadelphia, a EWTN viewer’s comment on social media about same-sex marriage, (‘the world is changing, get over it.’) was responded to by Fr. Gerald Murray (New York). ‘That person needs to understand that Catholicism is the one true religion through which God speaks, and God has given His Church authority to teach the truth.’

    And this Sunday morning, Fr. Murray stated his anger that contemporary society is wrong. ‘The salvation of souls is not open to personal interpretation, it is totally dependent upon the word of God as stated in the Bible.’

    God Bless Chris Matthews (MSNBC) for his respectful challenges Saturday morning from Philadelphia of Bishop Robert Barron, Father Timothy Kesicki, Father McShane and one other (whose name escapes me) concerning the Catholic Church’s positions on same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive provisions, and many more controversial issues.

    The acknowledgement that committed love, not exclusively rooted in sexual acts, can exist between heterosexual as well as same-sex couples could not be voiced by Bishop Barron or either father.

    How refreshing and hopeful that some in Catholic leadership need pause to discern and do not immediately offer answers that parrot doctrinal positions.

    I believe it was Father McShane, concerning the Roman Church’s initial position toward potential compromise being retracted regarding the ACA’s contraceptive position, who was also initially unable to respond to Mr. Matthews’ comment and question. And after a short pause (to paraphrase his answer) ‘The Church sees its entire operation (hospital, charity or university) as Catholic.’

    A disappointing truth that Church leaders continue to default seeking to bind, not pastorally offer and lead, employees not of its flock to is beliefs. . .

    When Chris Matthews inquired why the Catholic Church does not offer the Sacraments to Catholic women who leave unsafe, abusive marriages and have since remarried in civil ceremonies and now enjoy safe, loving and blessed relationships with her new husbands, all the priests responded in silence.

    When Mr. Matthews continued and challenged that the Catholic Church has routinely allowed for the abuse of the annulment process to accommodate the rich and ‘connected’ in their often self-serving needs to remarry, again there was no easy answer.

    How can the Catholic Church claim to be ‘universal’ if it does not open its arms to all of God’s children?

    During his visit to the Americas, the words spoken and the Masses officiated by Pope Francis have touched the hearts and inspired the minds of many more than Roman Catholics – He has and continues to inspire the World.

    How should the faithful and the ‘World’ respond to those shepherds whose hearts were closed before Pope Francis’ visit and consciously will remain closed upon Francis’ departure?

    It might be wise to heed the advice of the ‘Nuns on the Bus.’ – The world needs a ‘Woman’s Touch’ now more than ever. . .

  3. After the completion of Sunday’s Mass in Philadelphia, Fr. McShane was asked on MSNBC, ‘What will stand out as the most memorable of the Pope’s visit?’ To paraphrase his answer, ‘He showed us how to be better pastors and shepherds.’

    Whose life has been the ‘example’ Church leadership has been following before Pope Francis’ visit? The life of Jesus, and many, many, many religious and laity, both historical and from local parishes, are exemplary examples. . .

    Might we look no further than the golden, gilded chalices gifted Pope Francis at each Mass he celebrated – The eyes (and hearts) of many ‘Mitered’ heads of Bishops and others in pews of honor might be continually ‘blinded’ by reflection from the ‘Bright, Shinny Gold’ of each ‘competing’ chalice gift, and the opulence of their own cathedrals. . .

    The simplicity of room and table captured in da Vinci’s painting of ‘The Last Supper’ would better reflect the hearts of Jesus, Pope Francis and most of the faithful – Imagine the glow in the Pope’s eyes if he could have celebrated Mass once with a simple ceramic chalice. . .

    Did the Bishops not know, the faithful donated silver and gold into which was fashioned (in the church basement) the chalice Pope Francis used at St. Patrick’s. . .

    Will Church hierarchy ever join hands and embrace their flocks longer than time required for a photo op?

    ‘He showed us how to be better pastors and shepherds.’ . . .

    Will they listen. . .

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