The Pope -- he can be so cool. And sometimes he says such wise, delightful, and, perhaps, unexpected things.
I have just been reading that he is over in Beirut. And he told the people: "I pray in particular that the Lord will grant to this region of the Middle East servants of peace and reconciliation, so that all people can live in peace and with dignity." He said that it was urgent for all people of good-will in the Middle East to serve "justice and peace," to build "a fraternal society," to build "fellowship." And then he stated that Jesus is a "Messiah who serves, and not some triumphant political savior."
Thinking about these words, I believe they apply not only to the Middle East, but also to our own country. And if the Pope trusts that the very, very different groups of people in the Middle East can accomplish this building of a fraternal society, with respect for all, I know that he would expect the same of us. We have a lot less obstacles in our path here in the U.S.A. than do the peoples of the Middle East. At least, it seems so to me.
So, I am going to dare to put together these words of the Pope with some of my own thoughts on how we can build this more "fraternal" society. And I am going to emphasize the importance of the Pope's words that Jesus is not some "triumphant political savior."
My father, back in the 1980's, used to get a little annoyed with the U.S. bishops. He respected them, but he felt that they often got "too political." He would tell me that the world would be a lot better if Catholics were taught Catholic teaching at Mass by the priests and the bishops. He felt that the "flock" was often abandoned in the pews while the "shepherds" were out running around and making statements in the public/political realm. The result of this, in his opinion, was a bunch of Catholics who didn't know anything about Catholic teaching, and a bunch of non-Catholics who felt like the Church was trying to run the country. And he thought that if the Catholic laity were actually taught their faith, that would naturally result in a better society, a more compassionate society, a society where there was less suffering. Looking at how things have unfolded, I must say he probably had a very good point.
Currently, I also see many efforts by the Catholic bishops to influence things in the political realm. And I think much of what they say is true and good. And I believe most of their efforts come from a concern for religious freedom. They do not want to see Catholics, or people of any faith, forced to act against their consciences in order to obey civil law. But, I do have a few worries about how they are handling things.
First of all, the Catholic Church likes to see civil law be aligned with what is viewed as the Natural Law. Natural Law, in short and as I understand it, is what you can logically see to be true, based on how nature is set up. For example, when you look at the biology of a man and the biology of a woman, that leads to certain conclusions about marriage. But, not everybody in our society believes in the Natural Law, just like everybody in the Middle East does not agree on the proper division of Jerusalem. Understanding this, there has got to be a way for religious freedom to be protected, while at the same time acknowledging that not everybody in our country agrees on what should be the basis for civil law. And, this is just my opinion, but I think the Catholic bishops sometimes miss this. It seems to me that in their defense of the Natural Law, they are giving people of other faiths and people of no faith the impression that the Church wants everyone to live according to its ideology. I don't think this is actually the case, but the bishops do need to be careful about the picture they are painting.
Therefore, this is what I would like to see, based on what the Pope said in Lebanon today. I would like to see people of even radically differing opinions assume the good-will of The Other, unless and until proven otherwise. And I would like to see some real give-and-take between these people of good-will. For example, it is important for me to be able to live my faith, teach my children about my faith, and speak about my faith without having to worry about being labelled a bigot. At the same time, I am quite willing to acknowledge and respect the different opinions and lifestyles of others. I understand that we all want to be able to live as we choose. After all, Catholics believe in human dignity, and free will is a necessary part of that human dignity. So, if the Pope expects that the people of the Middle East can learn to respect each other and live in peace with each other, maybe he would expect that of us, too. And rightfully so.