Papal Politics

It’s pretty widely understood that talking politics is a great way to start an argument or engender hard feelings. However, that’ll be the topic for this week. Furthermore, I intend to take a side, but I can guarantee it won’t be the side you expect.

In our country we have a pretty cut-and-dried situation in the political realm. While I know there are outliers and exceptions, we are more or less ruled by the two-party, Republican-Democrat, Right-Left, Conservative-Liberal dichotomy.

Now I freely admit that I hold a pretty deep disdain for politics as an avenue of discourse, because so few actual exchange of ideas take place. I don’t go blaming “the other side” in your mind now, because essentially everyone is at fault. That being said, I would suggest that politics is the largest religion in the United States.

What do I mean? Simply, it seems a wide majority of folks put greater stock in their votes than in their prayers, and have greater trust in their favored elected officials to bring about God’s Kingdom than in God Himself.

In case you were wondering, that responsibility belongs to you and me, not to any government.

This misplacement of trust is, by my admittedly simple analysis, the root of the problem we face as Christians and as Catholics. It is also what made Pope Francis’ initial visit to the United States such a refreshing and electric time for the Church in our home country.

His every word was parsed and manipulated by either political pole in efforts to construe the Holy Father as supporting their argument. But if we take it as a whole, the entire visit could be summed up in a sentence or two. If you find yourself siding with either (or any) political party on just about 100% of the issues, you have it wrong.

The reason for this is that the Church is found in part on both sides of the aisle, and most of the time, standing astride the middle of it.

Therefore, in embracing the outcast or excluded and in welcoming the marginalized or minority, Pope Francis didn’t simultaneously signal that doctrines no longer matter, or that the Church’s teachings were weakening, shifting, or otherwise changing. Rather, he demonstrated for us exactly what those doctrines should look like when planted in the heart, grown and cultivated with care and attention, aged to maturity through suffering and virtue, and finally harvested and shared as loving action and self-giving.

We all got a good papal butt-kicking in terms of what Gospel love looks like, and how Gospel love is formed. Not only that, but it wasn’t even merely about the exterior or the way we relate to one another.

We were called to account for the fruit that the truths of Catholic doctrine should yield in the world. The choice to bless prisoners is borne of a love for God’s law. The decision to eat with the homeless is the outgrowth of deep respect and reverence for home and family. The call to greater care for “our common home”, as he phrased it many times, is the maturity of our responsibility as the “crown jewel” of Creation. Moreover, the call to love and accept those yet born, as well as homosexuals shouldn’t divide us. For it is precisely what we hold in common that makes us one. Namely, we are created by God for Himself, and therefore our individual genius is a flattery to our race. We are universally and flawlessly loved by our common Father, simply because we are as the result of His willing it. Finally, no matter the wear and tear, the beating and breaking we suffer throughout the earthly journey, and no matter the weight and volume of our sins, His response is changeless, just like His truths and doctrines: Mercy for all who ask.


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