In his speech before a joint session of Congress in 2015, Pope Francis offered a profound reflection on the challenges facing America today. Rather than draw simply on Catholic social teaching, he offered an ecumenical vision that drew in particular on the values and dreams of four “great Americans”: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. These figures, the Pope said, “shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.”
A number of statements by Pope Francis seem to speak directly to the hopes, fears, and anxieties of our present moment:
1. A Delicate Balance:
- A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology, or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom, and individual freedoms.
- But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps.
- We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.
2. A Catholic Response:
- Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice.
- We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent.
- Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.
3. The Sins and Errors of the Past
- When the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past.
- We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us.
- Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best.
4. A Clear Direction
- The Golden Rule points us in a clear direction: Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated.
- Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.
- In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.
5. The Politics of Service
- If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.
- Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good.
- We seek the kind of community in the United States of America that sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.”
We are entering a time of unprecedented political division, when Americans of all faiths will be challenged to account for their deepest values. To our fellow Catholics and American citizens, we commend the words of Pope Francis when he noted:
“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.”
We pledge to one another, to people of all faiths, and to all people of good will that we will follow in our business practices, in our personal and public lives, these principles rooted in our Christian faith and in the best of our political heritage.
For more information on this Invitation to Public Discourse