Reflections on the Pope in DC, Part Three: The Speech to Congress

Pope-in-Congress-2-512x300The Pope and the Congress of the United States.  Who could ever have imagined such a scene?  After all, it hasn’t been all that many years since it was considered impossible for a Catholic to ever be elected President!  And here was “the Pope of the Holy See” (as he was announced to the members of Congress) standing there between two other Catholics, lawmakers from opposing political parties, about to deliver an historic address.

Much has already been reported about the speech.  The steady drumbeat of “the common good” punctuated the Pope’s remarks as he schooled, supported, and challenged the legislators in their mission.  He also took the opportunity to address all U.S. citizens through our shared “historical memory”, invoking Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.  Truly a stunning list and, undoubtedly, one which is simultaneously affirming and challenging.  American politicians of each party are fond of aligning themselves with Abraham Lincoln, and most would also include Dr. King today.  But certainly most of our lawmakers would perhaps not even recognize the names of Day and Merton and, if they did, would find them uncomfortable!  The Pope detailed his reasons for recalling each of them, summarizing:

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

Let’s consider some highlights from the pope’s own words:

Abraham_Lincoln_seated,_Feb_9,_1864Abraham Lincoln:

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

In addressing the current polarities found in public life and discourse throughout today’s world, the Pope challenged the popular tendency to sharpen those polarities:

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. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Such a challenging assertion!  Do we, indeed, as a people, reject this temptation to polarity, both in our public political discourse and even in our religious discourse?

We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. . . .

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 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: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.

dr-martin-luther-king-1Martin Luther King, Jr.:

In recalling the great “dream” of Dr. King for equality of all persons, the Pope expanded upon it:

We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, 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. . . .

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? 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).

The Pope’s invocation of the Golden Rule resulted in a standing ovation from all present in the chamber, and it was here that he pointedly addressed issues of life itself, including the death penalty:

This 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. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule alsoreminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

Dorothy-DayDorothy Day:

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded theCatholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

While acknowledging that much progress has been made, the Pope reminded us all that “much more still needs to be done” to assist those who are trapped in a cycle of poverty.”

Included in this renewed sense of social justice for all was a strong call for economic and ecological reform, again and always for the common good.  There is also a steady stream of quotations from his encyclical Laudato Si’ punctuating this entire section:

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

This powerful section linking and expanding what we include in the category of “social justice” was particularly powerful and moving, challenging all to develop that “culture of care” for all of God’s creation!

merton-photoThomas Merton:

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. . . .  Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

In this spirit of dialogue, the Pope explains to the lawmakers both HIS role as pontifex: a bridge-builder, and THEIR role as political leaders:

It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. 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.

As we saw above:

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

The Pope calls us all to spiritual greatness, recognizing our God-given identity and responsibility:

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.

Challenging.  Supportive.  Hortative.  Inspirational.  Imaginative.  Pope Francis struck every note, creating a chord of compassion, commitment to the common good, and collaborative leadership.  It will be wonderful if not only our political leadership will take his words to heart but indeed all of us!

Reflections on the Pope in DC, Part Two: The Cross and the Hill

1000Just when you think things couldn’t get more exciting, Pope Francis takes things to a new level.  That’s the way it felt in Washington the day after the Canonization Mass at The Catholic University of America.  The pope, of course, was about to do something no other pope had ever done before: address a joint meeting of the United States Congress.  But before turning to that address in the next post, I want to offer some personal observations surrounding the event.

220px-Farr-Portrait-2013On a personal level, the pilgrims from the Diocese of Monterey were blessed by the great generosity of Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA, 20th District) and his staff.  Mr. Farr not only obtained tickets for a diocesan-sponsored pilgrimage group; he invited Monterey Bishop Richard Garcia to attend the pope’s speech in the Gallery of the Chamber itself.  Retired Monterey Bishop Sylvester Ryan was seated in a caucus chamber, and still another room was prepared for additional visitors from his District, and still others were outside watching on Jumbotrons.  So, pilgrims from the Diocese were found everywhere that historic day.  Once more, a very public “thank you” to Congressman Farr and his entire staff!

IMG_0734 (2)My own responsibilities that day included a very special mission.  Some weeks ago at the Vatican, the Pope was shown the actual cross worn by Father Junipero Serra over his Franciscan habit.  He asked that it be made available during the Mass of Canonization, so Bishop Garcia personally carried the relic to Washington, where he provided it to the papal Master of Ceremonies.  The day after the Mass — which was the same day as the Pope’s speech to Congress — was the first time we could retrieve the relic for its return to the Carmel Mission where St. Junipero is buried.  Since the Bishop had to head into the Gallery, he asked me to pick up the cross.  So, after driving the bishops to Capitol Hill on Thursday morning, I returned to the Basilica and met with Msgr. Rossi, the Rector.  The cross had been safely preserved in the sacristy where the Pope had vested for the Canonization Mass, and I carefully returned it to its box for the Bishop to transport it back to California.  Mission accomplished, I returned to Capitol Hill and was able to see the last half of the Pope’s remarkable address [see the next post].

IMG_1814Following the papal address, Congressman Farr and his staff laid on a light lunch for all of us, and then he gave a few of us a brief tour of the House, including the part of Statuary Hall containing the statue of St. Junipero Serra; the only other State represented by a saint is Hawai’i, with its statue of St. Damien of Molokai.  In an interesting bit of trivia, the masking tape was still on the floor in front of the statue of St. Junipero showing where the Pope and the Congressional leadership had stood only moments before.  The Congressman, as indeed all of us, had been moved by the positive tone of the pope’s address.  He remarked that it was exactly the kind of message our lawmakers needed to challenge them out of the overarching negativity and polarization that seems to have frozen them into indecision and inaction.

It was on this wonderful, positive, and very personal note that we left the Hill.  Some of us departed Washington shortly thereafter, some of us returning to California, while some of the bishops headed off to New York and/or Philadelphia.

Let’s now take a closer look at the remarkable address Pope Francis delivered to the Congress.

Reflections on the Pope in DC, Part One: “Siempre Adelante”!

24B5572900000578-0-image-a-78_1421328465237“Keep Moving Forward”: Siempre Adelante!

During the papal Mass at the Catholic University of America last Wednesday, Pope Francis ended his homily by quoting St. Junipero Serra’s motto, “Siempre Adelante!”  Indeed, as has become a cornerstone of his teaching, the pope’s entire homily was about not remaining bottled up inside ourselves or our churches or our ecclesial institutions, but about going out to meet people where they actually are and not, as he would echo in New York, where we would like them to be.  He spoke of the joy associated with living out this pilgrim spirit and, with power and poetry, he challenged:

Go out to all, proclaim by anointing and anoint by proclaiming. This is what the Lord tells us today. He tells us:

A Christian finds joy in mission: Go out to people of every nation!

A Christian experiences joy in following a command: Go forth and proclaim the good news!

A Christian finds ever new joy in answering a call: Go forth and anoint!

These last few days have been remarkable on so many different levels and the impact of the Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis of Rome will be felt, studied, pondered and — we pray to God! — experienced for years to come.  In keeping with his charge to keep moving forward, he himself has left Cuba, Washington, and now New York.  As I write these words he has just landed in Philadelphia on the last leg of his North American sojourn.  Each and every stop along the way has significance, both in itself as well as in relationship to his whole overarching vision of the church as the loving outstretched hands of God’s own mercy.  We, the Church, are servant-missionaries, going out to encounter others in their own sitz-im-leben, their own particularities of life, their own existential realities, and caring for each other there.  As Christ Himself told his followers: “Be not afraid,” and, “Put out into the deep.”

IMG_1780I was so blessed to be able to participate as one of the corps of deacons assigned as ministers of Holy Communion during the papal Mass at the Catholic University of America.  As a deacon of the Archdiocese of Washington who is currently serving in the Diocese of Monterey (the home of our newest Saint), and as a former resident of the District and student at CUA, just arriving back in town was a thrill.  But experiencing the pope on such familiar territory was electrifying and beyond words.  It will take a long time for its full impact to sink in.  These are a few initial recollections.

The day began early.  Even though we’ve lived in Washington many times over the years, trying to gauge the impact the pope’s travels through the District would have on public transportation was nearly impossible.  The Catholic University campus was scheduled to open at 10:00 AM, with Mass beginning at 4:15 PM.  Concelebrating priests and assisting deacons were told to be checked in and at our staging areas by 2:00 PM.  My traveling companions and I decided to forego the Metro and splurge on a taxi, leaving at 7:00 AM.  Traffic was light and we made great time.  Michigan Avenue was closed at Trinity Washington University, so we got out and walked toward Catholic University.  We hit the first security checkpoint at 7:30 and there we waited until they opened at 10:20.  The mood was good, however, and people were just excited about being in place instead of stuck in traffic across town!  There were pilgrims gathering from all points of the country.  People of all ages, colors, languages and backgrounds were lining up.  IMG_1748There were also sisters, some very young and others in their wisdom years, as well as priests and deacons (perhaps most noticeable by our ubiquitous little bags carrying albs and stoles for the Mass!).  The weather was wonderful, although by mid-morning, the temperature and sun began to bake a bit.  Some sisters found temporary relief under some nearby trees!

As a former career Navy officer, I was also struck by the sheer volume and diversity of the security forces assembled around the checkpoint: TSA, Homeland Security, the Secret Service, DC police, FBI, and others who left their uniforms and windbreakers at home to operate more subtly.

At 10:20 we began going through the checkpoint and, with the exception of being able to leave our shoes on, the procedure was exactly like going through security at the airport; in fact, that’s probably because the officials handling it were all TSA!  Belts off, jackets off, bags checked, and on and on.  However, everyone, including the TSA personnel, were in great spirits and full of excitement (unlike most lines at the airport!).

IMG_1272Once through we made our way to our assigned entrance point.  Priests and deacons had to check in with our own coordinators to receive additional instructions about where to vest and so on.  Then there was time to wonder around the familiar campus and check out the venue.  The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the best known feature of the campus and, of course, the papal Mass was going to be celebrated right outside in order to accommodate as many people as possible.  Even though the Basilica is the eighth largest church in the world, it was no where close to being adequate for the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 pilgrims who were gathering.

There were volunteers everywhere, most of them very excited and happy students, who directed folks to tents for water, cookies, and nutrition bars, and the Basilica Gift Shop had set up a couple of huge tents in front of Mullen Library.  I made my way to our assembly point for deacons and checked in.  It was a wonderful reunion, since many of the deacons gathering were brother deacons from the Archdiocese of Washington, along with a small contingent of deacons from the Diocese of Monterey and, of course, from other dioceses around the country.  I showed the Monterey group around a bit, and we had lunch together sitting on a curb along with some undergraduates taking a break from their own escort duties.

IMG_1293As we reassembled in our staging area, we found out how this was going to work.  We deacons would remain in the building during the first part of the Mass.  We could follow the Mass through the windows or on a TV located in the building.  We were introduced to our teams as well.  Each of us had an assigned “escort” who was, in most cases, an undergraduate student from CUA.  The escort would have an umbrella to hold over us during communion, not so much for us, but to show people where the communion ministers were actually located!  In addition to the escorts, we had team captains for each section who helped get us where we needed to be and help with crowd control.  It was all very well organized.  Long before the Mass began, every one of those chairs was filled with students and deacons.  And that was just one of the rooms being used.

And then, the Pope arrived.

IMG_1310Look, I’m a teacher, and I love being around students.  Here we were, assembled in a hot, humid classroom.  But the students (as well as most of us deacons) all had their cell phones out, tracking the pope’s location. Their own excitement and love for the man was palpable — and noisy!  “He’s just left the nunciature!”  “They’re approaching the USCCB!”  “They just left the USCCB — can you see him yet?”  “There he is!  There he is!”  “Francis!  Francis!”  They were standing on chairs, they helped each other find space at the windows, and I have never seen such joy, as they saw Francis make his way in the popemobile along the same paths that they walked every day to classes.  I have to admit, I was pretty much an undergraduate at that moment myself — it was surreal to see this man, this Pope, on such familiar territory.

The Mass itself was glorious.  Several things stood out, for me at least.  The canonization of Junipero Serra, the subject of concerns raised by some Native American groups, was handled beautifully.  In fact, not only did Native Americans participate in the canonization itself, the first reading of the Mass, from Isaiah, was proclaimed in Chochenyo, a native language previously declared to be a “dead” language, which has now been restored. IMG_1772 In fact, the man who proclaimed that reading was himself one of those responsible for restoring the language and here it was being heard again publicly for the first time by millions of people watching around the world!  After the Mass, the Pope met with nine Native American tribal leaders from California, including descendants of the Peoples with whom St. Junipero had served.  One of those leaders was Andy Galvan, who had helped present the relics of the saint during the Mass.  A fascinating and passionate man, he eagerly recounted his meeting with the pope as well as his pride in his cousin, who had proclaimed that first reading during the Mass.

Another part of the Mass which I will always remember took place during the pope’s wonderful homily.  A number of hosts had been consecrated at an earlier Mass to facilitate the distribution of communion during this Mass.  During the homily, Masters of Ceremonies brought a ciborium to each deacon so that we would be ready to form our procession and get to our communion stations.  Picture this: we were seated listening to the Holy Father speak of “going out” and of bringing Christ to all peoples where they actually are, and calling us all to a joyful mission, and all the while we were holding the Eucharistic Christ in our own hands, ready to do just that in a very real way.  For me, and I believe for all of us deacons assembled that day, this was a profound moment.

communionPerhaps another point to ponder for deacons.  It was interesting that it was the Order of Deacons who distributed Communion that day.  We were not able to sit outside with the bishops and priests in front of the Holy Father, but were instead staged inside with our student-escorts and team captains.  But then the Order of Deacons emerged from that building and processed to all points of the assembly to serve, as we should, the People of God.  It was the deacons who were called to serve in a particular way at that Mass.  As the ordained servants of the People of God, we were focused on carrying out that service.

As always, distributing Holy Communion is a joy: we experience the Christ who is really present under the sacramental forms of bread and wine, and we also experience the Christ who is really present in the people coming forward.  Some people dropped to their knees to receive, other stood and received on the tongue and others on their outstretched hands: all were reverent, joy-filled, and happy.

IMG_1309As people left the campus after the Mass, some of us stayed behind to speak with the media and to enjoy the afterglow before finding our way back to wherever we were staying.  It had been a long day, but a glorious one.  And all who were there left, I believe, with a renewed sense of mission.

A mission to “keep moving forward”: Siempre adelante!

In the next blog, we’ll reflect on the Pope at the Congress of the United States.