Oct 1, 2015
Pope Francis has done it again.
He has reminded us what it means to be an elected official, a leader, a responsible citizen of the world.
I had the privilege of watching Pope Francis' address to Congress with my 11th grade students. The focus of 11th grade Religion in our school is Morality and Ethics, and Pope Francis offered a master class in morality in his address. Below are some of my class's favorite moments.
"You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics."
Pope Francis used the word "dignity" twelve times in his remarks; human dignity is a hallmark both of Pope Francis' papacy and of Catholic morality. This great dignity does not come at a price, it is not earned. It is ours simply because God has created us in his image and likeness. Because of this inherent dignity, each and every human life, at every age and every stage, must be respected and loved-regardless of the circumstances. The centrality of human dignity is what prompts so many to defend the unborn, the elderly, the inmates on death row, the immigrants, the young. The universality of human dignity transcends any and all political labels that we try to use because dignity is a Divine invention, not a political one.
"Let us remember the Golden Rule: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you' (Matthew 7:12)."
Is it a coincidence that every major world religion has the Golden Rule as the foundation of its moral code? Pope Francis reminds us, again, of the universality of the principle, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." Speaking about the refugee crisis, he urges, "We must not be taken aback by their [the refugees'] numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome."
It is far too easy to be indifferent to the suffering that surrounds us daily, let alone the suffering that is worlds away. Pope Francis calls us, as Christ does, to see the suffering around us and to respond, to be "promoters of a culture of encounter," as he told the US Bishops yesterday. We all want to be loved and to be treated with compassion. Pope Francis urges us, "if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us." If we want to be shown mercy, we must show mercy ourselves.
"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."
In other words, if we want this nation to be great, we need to earn it. This is a decision that we each must make every day. Will we defend liberty: religious freedom, intellectual freedom, and individual freedom, as Pope Francis calls us to? Will we strive for justice for the oppressed, mercy for the convicted? Will we be a people of many faiths, but of one mission, to serve the common good? All too often we allow our politics to divide us, our pride to swallow any common ground that we might hold. Yet if we uphold the dignity of human life as paramount, we can't help but be people of goodwill. The common good will flourish, we will flourish, because we have at our core the respect and value for God's creation, and therefore, for God himself.
So why did Pope Francis need to fly halfway around the world to tell us this?
Because we've misunderstood human dignity.
We've made the fundamental error of bestowing dignity on some, but not on all. We allow the powerful to choose who is worthy of dignity and who is not. Our culture does not uphold the dignity of immigrants, refugees, unborn babies, homeless men and women, criminals, and countless other groups of people. The very rights of these people get tied up in politics. Pope Francis has reminded us that we each have an inviolable dignity given to us by the Creator, not by any earthly authority. And he's reminded our elected officials that they have a responsibility "to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face." Hopefully everyone was listening.