“Oh, so you drank the Kool-Aid,” my neighbor superciliously sneered from the stoop he occupies each afternoon to sip wine and critique people’s parking skills on our beloved Olive Street.
I did, I confessed. I grabbed the pope’s chalice, gulped it down and asked for more. It was magical. Palliative. Heavenly. For a few hours, I felt un-cynical. I wanted to be a better person and say nice things about Donald Trump. I wanted to invite strangers into my home, wash their feet and feed them fishes and loaves.
I wanted to convert.
And then morning came, the dog barked (no cocks crowing, thankfully) and reality lifted me from the reverie of prayer and pressed me into the friction of deadlines, bills and the blasted construction site behind my house going on two years now. I washed my own feet, ate a gruel of hot oats and cursed the blithering, bombastic, baying of the anti-pope — You-Know-Who.
My snapback to everydayness is not meant to diminish the joyous occasion of Pope Francis’s visit to the nation’s capital. Long his admirer, I love his kindness, his gentle ways and his genuine affection for the poor and downtrodden. I love his openness, his call for tolerance and inclusivity, his appeal to our better angels. He makes me happy.
I also love the Golden Rule, which was Francis’s resounding message to the Congress. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s a simple sentiment that pretty well sums up the practices of Christianity. All of the doctrinal debate and theological parsing of Scripture can be reduced to these 11 words.
The brilliance of Francis’s address to America’s leadership and to el pueblo — the people — was his nuanced approach to our most divisive challenges — immigration, climate change, the sanctity of life. Careful not to preach, he encouraged thinking of a higher order.
Without naming abortion, he said we should protect human life at all its stages. Applying the Golden Rule, would we want to have been aborted, we asked ourselves? The answer lies in the question, which can be asked only of the living.
From this subliminal suggestion, Francis segued to the death penalty and his hope that all nations would put an end to it. What else would the Vicar of Christ say? The most consequential state-ordered death penalty in human history created a movement and a faith that beseeched us to forgive those who trespass against us, to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek.
Francis further insisted that rehabilitation should be the goal of our justice system. After all, forgiveness and redemption are fundamental to the Christian faith. Ultimate justice, by which some rationalize the state murder of transgressors, belongs to the heavenly realm.
The point is, Pope Francis spoke not of policies but of fundamental Christian as well as universal truths. Those on either side of the political spectrum who sought validation for their own positions might have found them in his words, but they will have looked too hard.
The pope isn’t a socialist, as some might infer from his plea that we not worship money. He’s not a proponent of immigration amnesty in the particular, as some might think. Rather he’s for open hearts and generous spirits. It’s up to us to figure out how to make practicable that which is divinely inspired.
Francis referred often to the common good, which can be imagined in a variety of ways, from a society that redistributes wealth to a sublimation of the individual. But church catechism means something else by the common good as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”
How we ensure the common good is the business of politics — and Francis attempted to provide a moral compass to guide us.
In the coming weeks, as analysts dissect the meaning of the pope’s address to Congress, it would be helpful to remember that he is a proxy for the Almighty, who has a rather grand view of things. His vision isn’t locked on our southern border but on the heavenly horizon. His aspirations are divinely inspired.
Most of us can’t dwell in this holy realm in our daily lives, but we can easily remember the Golden Rule, which is a decent start to any day. In this spirit, fine: May Donald Trump have a good hair day.
And long may the pope’s flag wave.