Monday, September 28, 2015


Pope Francis left Philadelphia less than 24 hours ago, and already there has been a lot of  ink used to discuss what he said and even more about what he should have said. A friend of mine published a good blog post as to why the pope did not mention abortion and gay marriage during the speech to congress:
The blog promoted some good replies. In italics below is part of mine:
All I have read and learned about apologetics and pro-life underlines the necessity of beginning each conversation by connecting with the other side, sharing what we have in common. Only then, will the other side listen; only then will they realize that you care about them and about what they think. Maybe this is also part of Francis's "strategy".  
I am also asking myself, "what would have Jesus done?" I am not sure I have found the answer yet, but the closest event I can think of (that we know of via the Gospels), was when Jesus went to the house of Zaccheus. He did not blast Zaccheus with reminders about what he did wrong. He just went to be present. I probably would not have done (just) that, but then again, Zaccheus may not have given his money to the poor.
Since writing the above, I reflected some more about the question: “What would Jesus do?” Jesus’ speeches  are always positive, especially when he is invited by people to their house or to preach to them or to explain to them something. He rarely tells somebody “do NOT do this”, “do NOT do that” unless he is actually directly asked that question.  To the rich young man who approached him to ask him what he should do to enter the kingdom, he simply replied: “You know the commandments”, then, when challenged further, he answered: “go and give your wealth to the poor”.    When he was asked about divorce, again he said, “Haven’t you read what the scriptures say [...], therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Jesus also never directly addressed abortion or infanticide which were actually practised at that  time in history. Does this mean he did not think these were fundamental issues? Or was that made clear from the way he spoke and lived? He did say, however, that if we want to enter his kingdom we need to become like children, clearly indicating the value he placed on children.
Jesus seemed to defer to a positive teaching method. In this regard, as a parent,  I have had  a lot to learn. Seen in this light, pope Francis’ speech to congress is actually quite revealing.
Here are a couple of passages from his speech. The style is remarkably gospel-like:

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. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people.

the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being.

Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

We must not be taken aback by their 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. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism.  

As I reread the transcript, I noticed that the pope himself actually stated his goal for that speech and many others that he directs to politicians and leaders. He said:

It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same.  
A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223)
He also did say:
Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family.
It cannot be more clear what he was referring to here.

In the end, we will likely never know why pope Francis did not mention the words “unborn” or “abortion”. Was that a mistake? Maybe; but let’s remember that even the pope is a man and only infallible when he makes ex-cathedra statements about faith and morals, not in every sermon or commentary he pens. At the same time, I now wonder if Jesus would have ever mentioned divorce had it not been for a Pharisee asking him the question directly. And really how many people really knew all that Jesus said that until after the Gospels were written?

As I close this reflection, another question now comes to mind, “where is the separation between building bridges while still teaching the truth and instead being simply politically correct?” This question is easily answered in for pope Francis, since those that are familiar with his writings know where he and the church stand on society’s fundamental issues. It may be a harder question for us regular folks to answer.  
How do we speak the truth and build bridges at the same time? For me, the answers is in real listening. Feel free to chime in.

Videos and transcripts of all of his speeches can be found at the bottom of this article:
Airplane interview: 

Visit highlights: 

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