The most thunderous ovation during the Pope’s speech to Congress today came when he reminded America of the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
When did you first hear that? In Sunday School? In kindergarten? At your mother’s knee?
Yet we needed the Pope’s reminder. Indeed, we needed the Pope’s speech.
He gently brought to mind the values and perceptions that have made America the world’s greatest nation. The values and perceptions that could yet make America the greatest society in history. He observed that America is a land of dreams – some realized, some still aspired to.
A land of dreams – and a land of immigrants who follow their dreams to these shores. Most Americans are immigrants, he observed. He, himself, is the son of immigrants.
As the children of immigrants, should we not greet today’s immigrants with empathy?
From immigration to civil rights, from income inequality to global poverty, from the evils of global arms sales to the dangers of religious extremism, from economic injustice to the impending terrors of climate change, the pontiff spoke truth to power – in calm and conciliatory tones, in sober reflection, not in angry denunciation. And Congress listened intently, applauding enthusiastically from time to time.
Pope Francis is well aware of the complexities of politics, and he acknowledges the difficulty of realizing America’s dreams, but he tells us there’s joy and fulfilment in striving to make dreams come true, just as there is in attaining them.
The thorny and divisive issues of our time should be handled in a spirit of cooperation, he advises. Not with extreme and polarizing rhetoric.
Time and again, he evoked the need for dialog, the essential role of discourse in the business of government. And dialog means listening as well as talking. We cannot expect a hundred percent agreement, but we can reach acceptable compromises. That’s how the real world works.
Deal with life and people as you find them, not as you would wish them to be, he said.
As for me, I do not agree one hundred percent with everything the Pope advocates. But I understand his reasoning. If you respect human life, for example, I can understand why you would abhor abortion. But, speaking pragmatically, I witnessed the horrors of backroom abortions as a young reporter and I would not want to go back to those days. I prefer to acknowledge a woman’s right to legally terminate unwanted pregancies. It’s her body after all, not mine.
Interestingly, Pope Francis is not politically partisan on the sanctity of human life. He called – strongly – for an end to the death penalty, which many anti-abortion advocates vigorously support.
That’s the way we humans are – inconsistent.
But the Pope reassures us that humans have the capacity to unite for the common good. And he urges us to talk – or rather, to dialog – with each other to find common ground and achieve that common good.
With provocative loudmouths like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz so prominent in American politics today, the Pope’s gentle voice is a welcome reminder that we can reason together in good faith, even when we strongly disagree on individual issues.
And he reminds us that we can make the world a better place if we treat others as we would wish them to treat us.