Of Pope, Politics & Power

Have you been following Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S.? I’m captivated.

Every time I look at what’s happening, it seems that the pontiff is doing or saying something really amazing. Amazing in a good way. He is speaking out for the poor, visiting with the homeless, hugging little children, blessing those who are just nervously standing by, and rendering those he contacts utterly speechless. And he is doing all this effortlessly, as if he is imitating someone… that person… umm… lived a long time ago… took compassion on those he met, too… what was his name?

GTY_congress_13_Pope_mm_150924_4x3_992Seriously, Francis is reminding me a lot of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry on this tour. Considering that he occupies such an important place on the world’s leadership stage, seeing him model Christ, even if imperfectly and with some theological flaws according to Protestants, is really, really refreshing. Pay attention to this pope’s actions and think of Jesus, the perfect model for how we should interact with this world.

It is so incredibly refreshing to see a world leader be a shepherd and not a wolf.

Oh, and since he’s such a rock star, His Holiness is even going to release a pop-rock-other album. Yep. Rock star.

However…. American politicians seem to have stepped up their attack on Pope Francis and his messages. I simply do not understand it. It’s nuts. What saddens me even more is that most of the opposition is coming from inside the universal Church, a.k.a. people who claim to follow Jesus Christ.

The pope has become an election year punching bag for some.

Yes, the pope is for compassion for immigrants, illegal or legal, for slowing climate change, and for reducing the poverty gap around the world. This is his message. Democrats applaud it.

He also is for humanizing the homeless, ending abortion, is against gay marriage, and supports the other causes of the Church. This is also his message. Republicans applaud it.

Both sides of the American political aisle claimed the pope was speaking for them during his message to Congress on Thursday morning. But Shepherd Smith, the Fox News anchor, had the perfect response to those who were dragging the pope into the political war of our country.

I think that we are in a weird place in the world when the following things are considered political. Five things, I’m going to tick them off. These are the five things that were on [the pope] and our president’s agenda. Caring for the marginalized and the poor. That’s now political. Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political? Serving as good stewards of the environment. Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Welcoming [and] integrating immigrants and refugees globally. And that’s political?

Smith went on to conclude, “I think these were the teachings in the Bible of Jesus.” This is God, as described in the Old Testament by Moses:

For the Lord your God … executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. — Deut. 10:18-19

The past few days I cannot help but wonder how the Lord of all Creation, Savior of the World, would be received in this country. Imagine that Jesus went incognito, like he did on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. The two disciples on that road thought they were just talking to another Jewish pilgrim. What if Jesus came as, say, a political figure and did some of the exact same things that He did in the Gospels and said most of the same words? I wonder which side of the political aisle would be attacking His messages the loudest? I wonder. In the Gospels, the religious right were His main opposition (Pharisees). In fact, they demanded His death. The secular left didn’t care for Him much, either (Sadducees).

Look, I’m conservative in my politics, for the most part. But I also see the sickening hypocrisy between our current political leaders and what they claim to believe and who they claim to follow. In this presidential election season, politicians are saying ANYTHING to get an audience to applaud or get emotionally worked up. If that means tearing apart the pope’s messages of compassion, then so be it.

Power and the lust for it will destroy even the best-meaning souls. If you want the throne and you believe your audience can put your back-side on it, wouldn’t you say whatever they wanted to hear in order to ascend to your desired place?

Why would anyone even want to be president? Haven’t you seen what the position does to people? Haven’t you seen how it ages the men in office, stresses them into health issues, and tears apart their moral fiber as they have to say things they don’t mean and promise what they cannot deliver?

150924105434-pope-francis-speech-congress-global-arms-trade-00002219-large-169Lately, my heart has been moved by two seemingly-tortured political souls. Both sat behind Pope Francis as he spoke before the U.S. Congress. Both share his faith.

On Wednesday I watched a powerful and very sad video clip of Vice President Joe Biden as he was interviewed by a Catholic news service. Biden is a man I have deep compassion for these days. Not only is he a widower who lost his wife and baby daughter in the same tragedy, but he just lost his son and closest confidant, Beau, to brain cancer. Added to this is the intensifying pressure on him to run for president, which he does not want to do. He’s a grieving man who is coming to terms with life and mortality and his active Catholic faith.

Biden in the interview admitted how he hates abortion, how it is wrong, and how he believes life begins at conception. He believes in the Church’s teaching on life. But the years of Democratic politics have poisoned his soul and forced him to put aside his personal beliefs in order to cater to his political base. In the clip, he looked and sounded like a man tortured and regretful and so used to giving people an untruthful answer on abortion that he seems like a man on verge of spiritual tears.

Then there is Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Catholic, who cried when listening to Pope Francis speak before Congress on Thursday. Boehner is another tortured soul who announced his resignation from Congress today after what was, I’m sure, decades of tough political life in which he had to endure broken promises, partisan lines, and, as Speaker, rebellions that might or might not have damaged our government. He had to serve as a mediator between his party and the president, which is hard enough, and now he’s simply exhausted and had enough.

Why would anyone want to be President? Or Speaker? Or Pope! My goodness….

Above all the political fray, the personal attacks, the issues that divide the country, here is my exhortation to you and to myself:

Be God’s!

— John