Bringing Faith into the Civil Discourse and
Begging the Question: So What About Us?”
(Post-Papal Visit Reflections)
Click here for a PDF version of Ruth’s reflections: SantanaGraceSpiritSoundings2OCT2015
There is no denying the energy surrounding Pope Francis’ visit to our nation. For many, the anticipated visit lived up to, and perhaps even surpassed, expectations. The Christian ecumenical community and the interfaith community came together to welcome and hear his message. Our churches and members eagerly participated in a variety of ways, from offering hospitality to the stranger to being part of the music that framed the worshipping events. We added our prayers to the prayers in the Grotto. Even those who claim no faith were drawn to his message of love and dignity. The hopes of Ephesians 2:14 were embodied in the crowds – “For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”
The Pope’s willingness to name the ills of the organized church along with the ills of our society – social, political and spiritual – has made Pope Francis a rock star for many. His rejecting many of the privileges or comforts of past popes has made him the “Pope of the People.” Eating with the homeless instead of members of our congress is something to which we’ve become accustomed. We’ve come to expect his message of hope for those who live without it, his giving voice to those who are unheard, his embrace for those who are rejected.
There is much that the pope said over the tireless marathon of his visit – about freedom, the economy, immigration, the family, international accountability. There is also much to say about how he disappointed some in the larger Christian community by not going far enough with the themes of justice.
Whatever our thoughts are on the papal visit, one thing is certain. Pope Francis brought the joy and issue of faith into the center of our civil discourse – at a time when the Christian church (in all its many expressions) is struggling to articulate the faith in a way that is relevant for our life today.
In spite of our doctrinal and ecclesiastical differences with the Roman church – and there are no denying those- one line continues to surface in my mind as I think about his many speeches – “What about you?” Pope Francis recounted the story of a young Philadelphia woman, St. Katharine Drexel. When she went to see Pope Leo XIII about what he needed to do about the needs of the missions, Pope Leo responded, “What about you? What are you going to do?” As we now know, those words changed her life forever – as she gave up her wealth and became a nun. She was challenged to find “ways of sharing their enthusiasm and gifts with our communities, above all in works of mercy and concern for others?”
As we consider the future of our congregations and of our witness through social ministries – I want to humbly join my voice to the spirit of this challenge in asking the question. How is our enthusiasm and joy reflected and shared in our service to one another and the Church of Jesus Christ? Where are we contagious with the love of God? So what about us? Can we set aside that which divides us so that we might celebrate and work together to strengthen a broken education system? Can we set aside our preoccupation with the numbers in our pews so that we might come together to learn more about one another – in our effort to stop the biases that feed racism – consciously or unconsciously? Can we set aside the insular nature of our comfort zones, building partnerships with other Christians so that our ability to be agents of transformation might be strengthened? These words are compelling and convicting of each of us – “What about me? What about you? What about us?”
I am grateful that for a brief few days in the life of our nation, many were drawn to the presence of the Christian witness as embodied by a Christian world leader. I am grateful that the message of Christianity was calling us to a place of solidarity with others – fully aware there were places left unmentioned. I grew up in a Hispanic Presbyterian church. As a child I remember the distrust of the Roman church and our Presbyterian identity as “anti-papist”. How deeply sad it is that we historically focus on where we disagree instead of the strength we might get from where we ALL agree – our common identity born at the foot of the very same cross.
From my perspective, it is our brokenness that has given way to so many denominations – as a clear reflection of our limited human effort to “make right” what we believe to be wrong. And yet, because of so many different Christian traditions, we are compelled to listen and learn from one another – especially as the world embraces other faith traditions. We are even more compelled to find ways to work together across those differences in our common effort to bear the light of Christ into this world with an “evangelism” that is grounded in both “bearing and being” the Gospel at this time and place.
The answer to the question – “What about you?” requires a bold answer from each of us; from each of our congregations and ministries – not with clever theological words, but with the labors of our hearts and hands. May our spirits be reawakened in new and profound ways. May we be enthusiastically contagious as bearers of the Gospel into this world because friends, as we’ve seen – the world is clearly hungry for this witness.