Category Archives: Pope Francis

Peace

2016

As the New Year begins, my prayers are with you, Pope Francis.

Above all, I pray for peace this year.

Peace in the world. Peace in our communities. Peace in our families.

Peace within ourselves.

Amen.

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Pope Francis to America: Open your heart and mind.

As Pope Francis set out on his first trip to the United States he again asked for our prayers. In addition to the many worshipers and prayers he received, every papal step and message was also “blessed” with the scrutiny and spin of the media, hasty to keep score on the Pope’s liberal or conservative views and to claim victory for expedient political gain.

From the importance of the family, religious freedom and the environment to the battle against ideological and religious extremism, inequality and violence, the Pope’s message was careful not to pick sides in the raging political debates of the day. In his address to the U.S. Congress, he called for a “spirit of openness and pragmatism,” which as evidenced by thought leaders of the past can best be achieved through a “capacity for dialogue and openness to God.”

Unfortunately, ideologues and pundits are better served by polarizing headlines than calm debate and thoughtful introspection. To suggest that the Pope’s views on religious liberty justify the actions of a Kentucky county clerk against legally married homosexuals is as much of an exaggeration as to say that Pope Francis is against the Keystone pipeline because of his views on the environment. His was a more universal message.

If there is one word, which the Pope emphasized more than any other in his message to the American people, it is the importance of *individual* responsibility and decorum in society. By citing the examples of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, Pope Francis suggests that individuals can make a positive difference. While we may disagree on some of their views, the dreamers cited by the Pope are all individuals who professed their ideas in a spirit of good will and compromise.

If there is such a thing as American exceptionalism, it is not founded on the size of the US economy or strength of the military. It is based on the fact that individuals do have a voice in American society. Whether in a church, at the workplace or in the political process, individuals – informed by their personal relationship with God – can and must find their calling and stay true to their faith. That doesn’t mean, however, that the right to exercise even strongly held views legitimizes doing harm or injustice to others.  Interestingly, this leads us directly back to the Pope’s reverence for family values.

Even in the best of families there are disagreements. Siblings squabble and couples fight at times. The solution is not to “throw the bums out” let alone to subject loved ones to verbal or physical abuse. Instead, respect and empathy as well as the will to find common ground is what holds families together. Without a good portion of healthy pragmatism and compromise, marriages end in divorce, children are abused or bullied and families fall apart – an epidemic far more threatening to the “richness and beauty of family life” than the advent of gay marriage, which has no intention of harming anyone.

I pray that our politicians, colleagues and neighbors heed the Pope’s message to uphold the Golden Rule – to demonstrate the same good will and respect that we expect of our brothers, sisters, parents and children. By listening more, fighting less and working toward pragmatic solutions based on shared principles, Americans can stay true to the strong spirit and cultural heritage, which the Pope so lauded on his visit to the United States.

In short: Pope Francis urges individual Americans to show the greatness of their country by keeping their hearts and minds open to the needs of others.

It’s time to stop the war.

The only holy war that can surely be won is the one with ourselves – the fight against our own sins and evils that threaten to cut us off from God’s grace. While it is not wrong to fight a battle in defense of life, liberty and justice, it is another thing to wage war against even your most hardened enemies without regard for their own rights and aspirations.

It is deeply saddening to wake each morning to headlines about death and destruction throughout the Middle East. Israel has every right to defend itself against those who seek its destruction. There is no excuse for the refusal of groups like the Hamas to even accept Israel’s right to exist and for the barrage of rockets into the Jewish state that has been going on for years – even before the recent escalation.

At the same time, the killing of thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians is a terrible tragedy that must end. It must not be downplayed as simply a casualty of war, when hospitals and schools and mosques are destroyed and innocent lives lost in order to root out the evils that may be hiding among them. The cost to humanity is immense and it actually undermines the hope for sustainable peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Violence and extremism goes against the core of religious principles, whether Jewish, Islamic or Christian, which call for prudence, temperance and justice as among the key virtues. And while the courage to stand and fight for these principles is equally important when life itself is at risk, our actions must always be thoughtful, measured and just.

When King David fought wars for the rights of his people, he was reminded by the Lord that we are all accountable for our actions:

“You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight.”

Chronicles 22:8

Just before the beginning of the ongoing war in Gaza, Pope Francis tweeted: “With God, nothing is lost; but without him, everything is lost.” We should all be reminded that only our personal battle to find God is worth fighting (with ourselves) and keeping His virtues in our hearts the only measure of success. We must demand that our neighbors accept us for who we are, but everything is indeed lost if we unleash frustration and anger by waging war on our brothers and lose our moral foundation in the process. It’s time to stop that senseless battle.

Pride and Patience: the Spoils of Victory

If God likes the game of soccer, then he would probably be pleased with Team Germany. That isn’t to say he would be picking sides in the World Cup, of course. How could he? After all, Pope Francis and more than 90% of all Argentinians have a long tradition anchored in the Catholic faith. But there is a lot about the team spirit in Germany to be proud of today.

As Pope Francis tweeted this weekend:

Pope Tweets on the World Cup.

Far different from the battlefields of war, ethnic tension and interfaith conflict, soccer fans from around the globe come together in events like the World Cup to put differences behind themselves and engage each other in a friendly and sporting environment.

Since World War II, Germany has risen to the challenge and taken the World Cup four times. On the current occasion and faced with the daunting task of defeating Brazil in the semi-finals, Germany did so with confidence and humility. In the routing the Cup’s host country 7:1, Team Germany went out of it’s way to show grace toward Brazil both in the media and on the playing field. Now that it has won the championship by defeating Argentina 1:0, Germany has earned the right to be proud of it’s accomplishment. The spirit of the World Cup would be best served if that national pride is now used to further encourage the values of fairness, inclusion and sportsmanlike behavior in all walks of life.

By denouncing racism, supporting gay athletes to live openly and fighting corruption at all levels in the sporting business, Germany can be a leader with impact that goes far beyond the world of soccer. Step by step it can, in short, prove that true victory is not measured by the spoils of war, but by the progress achieved in a long fought battle.

Applied to the “real world”, challenges abound. With a unique historical perspective and sense for moderation, Germany can use its strength and power of example to help resolve ethnic and sectarian conflicts, humanitarian refugee crises, income inequality and the struggle between security and personal freedom. Admired around the world, it is time for Germany look beyond the national pride of the moment and to build and advance its reputation as a reliable force for real progress on the world stage.

Both Germany and Argentina can take heart in the aspirational words found in Ecclesiastes:

The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

For Argentina, who itself is no stranger to World Cup finals, both team and country can look back at a hard fought and successful competition, which could have ended a lot earlier if it didn’t have the faith and the will to succeed. In Sports like in life, there is consolation that the next opportunity to prove your faith is just around the corner.

Sheep vs. Goats

Screenshot 2014-07-09 11.32.36 Source: UNHCR

If Christian life is full of hardship, whose suffering is worse: the fate of a lost and hungry child or that of the family “forced” to take the child in? Wasn’t it also the fate of Jesus to wander in search of those who are loving and faithful – not only to the Son of God, but also to each other.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.

Matthew 25:35

The United States prides itself as an exceptional nation and a beacon for the poor and downtrodden. Conservatives across the country are quick to declare their moral views and family values. When faced with the current refugee crisis on the southern border, however, these good shepherds look more like the euphemistic goat.

Americans outraged by the inflows of children and their mothers from Central America should consider this – you are not alone. Just this year more that 68,000 refugees from Africa crossed the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy, slightly higher than the number of “illegals” entering the US during the same time frame – and the European refugees were mostly adults, not children. In fact, the most recent UNHCR data shows that many other countries are shouldering a much larger burden than the United States. The number of refugees to the US pales by comparison with Europe for example. At only a quarter of the size of the United States, Germany took in 600,000 refugees in 2010 compared with less than 300.000 refugees to the US.

While the humanitarian refugee crisis is also hotly debated in Europe, it’s mostly a debate about an acceptable level of care for refugees and their equitable distribution within the EU while giving the refugees due process to plead their case. In the US, on the other hand, the debate centers around how to beef up border security and “protect the homeland” against “illegals.” Shutting their eyes to the real source of the humanitarian crisis in Central America, unchristian-like protesters prefer to blame President Obama and block busses of immigrants from entering their communities. Ironically, the more generous European policies are arguably the result of enlightened post WWII politics which were shaped at least in part by the United States.

The reality is that the United States AND Europe ARE beacons of hope for many around the world. Increasing numbers of refugees are not the result of failed border controls, but a symptom of the growing income inequality in parts of the world that Pope Francis discussed with President Obama during their visit in March. Clearly the United States and Europe cannot integrate all of the world’s suffering people into their countries – and yes they have many of their own problems to solve. Unless Americans wake up to the true reality and invest more time and energy in the political and economic development of their neighbor states (instead of fighting long distance wars), the refugee crisis will continue.

In the meantime it would be a welcome change of tone if more Americans would demonstrate a little more patience and Christian-like compassion while working with the President on meaningful long-term immigration reform. Progressive or conservative, most Americans should be able to find common ground. I pray that Washington just gets it done.

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:40

Refugees in EU

Thou shalt not judge.

Judge Not

Where would we be if the media were not to judge the words and actions of others. I enjoy a healthy public debate, especially when religion is involved. Indeed, the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution puts the freedom of religion and freedom of speech on equal footing. To profess one’s religious beliefs, however, as a right to do harm and injustice to others, is a wrongdoing both to the Bible and the Bill of Rights.

It is human nature to judge and to condemn wrongful actions, which does require a moral compass. I believe that God gave us free will and the intelligence to discern between right and wrong, with religious teachings as a guide. That should not be an excuse to blindly follow those who are too quick to render judgement. The responsibility for interpretation lies with each of us. Inevitably, we will disagree from time to time – but hopefully without being disagreeable.

I stepped into the fray today over a cancelled reality show when – once again – an ill-informed politician raised the evil specter of facist nazism when the “liberal” A&E network cancelled a television show because of the “anti-gay” views of it’s makers. It is an obscene injustice to compare this flap over a home-flipping show to Nazi atrocities. It is all the more onerous when the accusations come from the elected representative, especially one from the Republican Party, which is quick to otherwise defend the rights of “corporate citizens.”

More than the content of this so-called “scandal,” though, I am struck by the lack of reservation and historical perspective that so many politicians seem to have these days. Easter this year has prompted me to revisit the foundations of the New Testament. As I read Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, I am impressed by the humility and sense of justice with which Jesus makes his case to the people. Pope Francis rekindles this authoritative spirit in both word and deed.

We should not fall prey to social injustices even if they are made in the name of religious tolerance. Instead, we should use our God given good judgement to ask ourselves whether scandal mongers are simply after personal or professional gain and reject them as such. In the spirit of Pope Francis we should focus on individual responsibility and the ties that bind us beyond our personal and political differences.

Tweet @pontifex 01. May 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas

A couple of days ago Pope Francis tweeted…

Christmas celebrations are often full of sound. It would be good for us to make room for silence, to hear the voice of Love.

What a great message for Christmas morning as well – a good day to rise early for quiet and peaceful reflection. Soon enough the world will awake to the  sounds of wrapping paper and ringtones. And for those of us lucky enough to enjoy a holiday feast, the kitchen will then chime in with the clangor of pots and pans.

So before the world wakes up, I am thinking of family and friends and give thanks to all the quiet blessings of life this Christmas day.

Man in the Middle

From a shortlist that included Edward Snowden, Bashar Assad and Ted Cruz, it is a true blessing that Pope Francis was chosen as TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year:

The first non-European pope in 1,200 years is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century.

It is in that spirit of change that the significance of TIME’s choice lies. Regardless of faith and personal circumstance, Pope Francis stirs a real hope that things can and will change for the better. In a year full of disenchantment in political leaders and other agents of change, the Pope holds out the prospect for a renewed optimism.

As “OnFaith” blogger Elizabeth Tenety writes in the Washington Post, progressives in media and politics have embraced with glee the new Pope’s critique on “the “obsessed” narrow-mindedness of those in the church.” The Pope’s message of humility, tolerance and inclusion are indeed a big draw for those of us disillusioned by some conservatives too quick to judge alternative lifestyles and progressive beliefs.

Elizabeth Tenety also points out, however, that Pope Francis is not in fact advocating an overhaul of the core beliefs of the Church. He is no more in favor of gay marriage or abortion than previous popes. The new Pope does, on the other hand, want to change the culture and tone of debate around these (for conservatives) controversial issues in favor of greater reconciliation and understanding. 

In life, as in politics, we may not always agree on what is “right”, but we can usually agree on what is wrong. According to the Proverbs 6:16-19

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

If sowing the seeds of discord – the greatest of these abominations – has had an impact on our lives this past year, then clearly some of the other candidates on TIME’s shortlist deserve their due recognition. The will to overcome and improve the human condition, however, seems to have a greater appeal to the masses. The quest for peace, a sustainable environment and economy, a just government, respect for privacy and civil liberties, human rights and the freedom from poverty and oppression – these are the things we can and should agree on.

Pope Francis stands center stage in these debates. As a moderator and man in the middle, who seeks to surround himself by a congregation of the faithful committed to achieving a greater good, he deserves our prayers and the acclaim as TIME magazine’s Person of the Year.

One Nation under God

While economists, politicians and “corporate citizens” alike regularly talk about sustainability as an economic and environmental necessity, Pope Francis has now upped the ante. Stepping again out of the comfort zone of the Vatican and into the fray of real world politics, the Pope provides a moral imperative against income inequality, which arguably is itself a threat to sustainability.

Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.

The Pope’s message delivered as part of the Evangelii Gaudium is a challenge against the notion of trickle down economics, in which the spoils of the rich are lauded by some as the means to an end of prosperity and justice for all.

In the true spirit of Christianity, the Pope urges that more focus be given to compassion for the poor and disadvantaged. It isn’t charity or socialism he’s lobbying for. His message is against a culture of indifference in which the rich and powerful are expected to win out.  As in Rawl’s “A Theory of Justice”, the Pope makes the case that it is in the greater interest of society as a whole if there if the goals of liberty and equality can be reconciled. Indeed, many economists argue that inequality is a major deterrent to growth.

The Pope’s admonition is in line with his other messages in which he condemns the marginalization of the vulnerable and easily ostracized in society, including those “without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.” Instead, he argues for more tolerance and inclusion.

In the end, the Pope is not just advocating a utopian world view. His challenge is to achieve a more faithful approach, in which the needs of many are not ignored to the benefit of a privileged few. When he asked for our prayers, Pope Francis is giving us a wake up call. It is not only time for us to pray for him, but for each other. Only then can we be confident of a sustainable and rewarding future.