Thursday, September 24, 2015

Look At Me

Baby, Baby - Amy Grant

A Persuasive Pope

Photo courtesy U.S. News & World Report

Let us say no to an economy of exclusion and inequality,
where money rules rather than service.
That economy kills.
That economy excludes.
That economy destroys Mother Earth.

~ Pope Francis

Regular “What’s the Diehl?” readers might remember that I grew up Catholic but have come to think there is no such thing as God, at least not in the Bearded-Man-Who-Floats-on-Clouds-and-Awards-Touchdowns-and-Grammys kind of way.

In my own life and in the lives of countless others – in Syria, Gaza, Japan, Sandy Hook and everywhere else where there is pain, injustice and violence – I’ve found it implausible that some higher power exists, that someone or something greater than ourselves is spinning the wheel and calling the shots.

We all know that it’s hard to believe in God when little girls are raped by their protectors, politicians rob from the poor to give to the rich and the good die young while the bad live forever (I’m talking to you, Dick Cheney). We know all the terrible things that have happened in the name of religion – from the Crusades to 9/11 – and have heard all about the systemic abuse, oppression of women and many other reasons why it makes more sense to believe in Elvis than the King of Kings.

Having said all this – and having embraced atheism as tightly as my children used to embrace the idea of the Tooth Fairy – I must admit that the current leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, is the most Jesus-like pontiff I’ve ever seen. Watching how he acted and hearing what he said during his historic visit to the United States, I realized that I was actually proud to have been an altar boy four decades ago.

Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires on December 17, 1936, he became the Pope in March of 2013 and chose Francis as his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. (Growing up, St. Francis was my favorite saint. Google him.)

Yes, the man is strongly pro-life – he once suggested that gynecologists invoke the conscience clause and refuse to perform abortions if asked – and he opposes the ordination of women. Yes, he opposes same-sex marriage. But he said he believes gays should be treated with respect and love, supported the restoration of U.S. relations with Cuba and opposes capital punishment and life imprisonment. Additionally, he thinks we need to address global warming and has condemned class warfare and economic injustice.

Is this pope cool or what?

I watched his historic address to Congress this morning and found myself moved to tears and brought to my feet more than once by what this charming, gentle 78-year-old Argentinian had to say.

Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind.

Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.

We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces.

For the text of the speech, click here. For the video, click here.

I don’t intend to rejoin a parish and start quoting scripture. I still think praying is silly and one can be good and moral without owning a Bible or a crucifix. But I dig Pope Francis and am less ashamed of having been Catholic than I used to be. I hope he continues to inspire and invigorate and charm and challenge. As I said in a Facebook status, the guy is rocking the Jesus thing and I really, really like him. I know I’m not alone.

Sources: U.S. News & World Report, U. S. Speaker of the House John Boehner.