There I was, listening to Pope Francis’ speech to Congress with my wife on Thursday morning. Toward the end of the speech, Pope Francis brought up two topics, one on the dignity of every human life and the other on the fundamental role of the family. During one of the pauses for applause, I emphatically whispered under my breath: “Say it! Say it!”
What did I want Pope Francis to say, you ask?
Two things, to be exact:
- That all children deserve a mother and father, and that we can’t allow gay marriage.
- That it is murder to kill children in the womb, and that we can’t allow abortion.
While he alluded to both, he didn’t in fact say these things. Though he has said both of these things before, I wanted him to tell our politicians directly. But he didn’t.
I’ll be honest: I was frustrated, confused — and even a little let down. How could Pope Francis let this chance slip away? How could he fail to state the truth about two of the most important topics in our country today — two topics for which so many people, so many Catholics, are trying to fight the good fight?
While I don’t think it would have been wrong to say these things to Congress, I do think it is worth reflecting on why Pope Francis did what he did and to see the positives of his particular style.
I’ve read almost everything that Pope Francis has stated in English during the course of his Pontificate, but on Thursday I learned something very important about how Pope Francis would like to communicate the gospel to the world.
The Catholic Church promotes three transcendentals: Truth, Beauty and Goodness. These transcendentals go back to the days of ancient Greek philosophy; they help us to understand how to communicate the faith.
So often we Catholics want to hear Truth. In fact, over the last generation, the truth was often missing from our homilies, our CCD classes and our conversations within the Catholic Church. The faith became confused. The doctrines of the Church became relative. There was a great need (and still a great need in the Church) for people to know Truth.
Many of us within the Church have made great sacrifices for these truths. We’ve followed them at a cost. We’ve defended them to our family and friends. And because of this, many of us in the Church are starving for our leaders to stand up and preach the truth.
But one thing to keep in mind is that Pope Francis wasn’t addressing the Church. He was addressing the secular world. Pope Francis’ speech to Congress reminded me that the greatest need for those outside of the Church is to see the Church as good.
We who are faithful Catholics often assume that the Church is good because we are in it. But the leading Western opinion is that religion is bad, that the Catholic Church is the poster child for conducting evil through religion. (The evidence of this can be found in any internet comment box that mentions the sex abuse scandals.) There is no possibility that these people will listen to the Church about the truth when they don’t believe that the Church is good.
What Pope Francis did in his speech to Congress is to restore what we all know as believers: the Church is good. It feeds the poor. It shelters those in need. It teaches us the golden rule. It demands that we take care of our neighbors. It inspires us to keep our ideals and seek a better future.
When the world looks at Pope Francis and hears his words, they remember the goodness of the Church. They remember the kindness of a priest instead of the scandals. They recall the service of a nun instead of accusing the Church of hoarding wealth.
Pope Francis helps those outside of the Church to remember its goodness; he did this quite remarkably in his speech to Congress without leaving the truth behind. While he didn’t say exactly what I wanted him to say, and while he didn’t preach every truth that he could have, he did help restore the belief in the goodness of the Church. I believe this most of all is what will help non-believers listen to and dialogue with the truth — something that might not have been possible before.