Second Sunday of Lent - February 21, 2016
Who do we listen to? Who do we believe? While listening, do we just pay attention to the words coming out of people's mouths or do we pay attention to their actions, their behaviors in other areas?
So this past week, you might have heard this HUUUGGE story that Presidential Candidate Donald Trump and His Holiness, Pope Francis got into a bit of a war of words. A quick glance of the headlines on Friday gives you a slightly skewed view of what happened: NY Times - TRUMP FIRES BACK AT SHARP REBUKE BY POPE FRANCIS; Wall Street Journal - Pope Francis and Donald Trump Spar over Immigration and Candidates Faith... and the ever reliable NY POST (with a photo shop that looks like it was done by the Ted Cruz campaign) TRUMP & POPE BIBLE BELTERS
Just to set the scene, you have to remember that Donald Trump has made a major part of his campaign the proposal to build a "huge" wall across the southern border of the United States to stop the flow of illegal immigrants coming into the country, as well as to provide security from terrorists, drug cartels, etc. He has also expressed his desire to deport 12 million people who have entered the country illegally and at different times called for banning Muslims from entering the country.
On the other side of this story, Pope Francis, had spent the last week visiting and celebrating Mass with hundreds of thousands of people from stop to stop in his visit to Mexico. He spoke to the struggles that the people were dealing with; the evils they were suffering under; the temptations that they encounter: Young people victimized by out of control criminal factions (so bad in fact that a group of criminals basically run a prison... the government, the police are seemingly powerless to deal with it). Poverty and drugs have devastated mass numbers of people. So in one city after another, the Pope talked about the need to resist the voices of evil, the voices of temptation, the voices of fear, the voices of convenience and false hope. On his last day in Mexico, he celebrated Mass near the US-Mexico border; praying at that spot that many have tried to cross, and many have died in the process he said "We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis…each step, a journey laden with grave injustices: the enslaved, the imprisoned and extorted; so many of these brothers and sisters of ours are the consequence of trafficking in human beings. Injustice is radicalized in the young; they are 'cannon fodder', persecuted and threatened when they try to flee the spiral of violence and the hell of drugs. Then there are the many women unjustly robbed of their lives."
At the conclusion of trips like this to different countries, the Pope makes himself available for press conferences where reporters basically can ask anything. And this trip was no different. Pope Francis was asked questions about his historic meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (which was HUUUGE - even if you didn’t know that by the media coverage... first time these two heads of their respective churches met in almost 1000 years since the Catholic-Orthodox Schism is a major deal); he was asked about Clergy Sex Abuse scandal - a horrific evil the Church still is looking for healing from; he was asked about the Zika Virus which has become a crisis in parts of the world, particularly for pregnant woman (and the proposal that some are advancing to allow abortions or contraception because of this crisis). In each of these varied, complex questions, the Pope answered from the heart as a voice longing for and hopeful for reconciliation; a voice asking for forgiveness; a voice of understanding and compassion but rooted in truth.
Then came the question that everyone has talked about, focus on and mis-characterized:
Phil Pullella, Reuters: Today, you spoke very eloquently about the problems of immigration. On the other side of the border, there is a very tough electoral battle. One of the candidates for the White House, Republican, Donald Trump, in an interview recently said that you are a political man and he even said that you are a pawn, an instrument of the Mexican government for migration politics. Trump said that if he’s elected, he wants to build 2,500 kilometers of wall along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, separating families, etcetera. I would like to ask you, what do you think of these accusations against you and if a North American Catholic can vote for a person like this? That we call a loaded and a leading question... It’s almost like asking a husband "Have you stopped beating your wife?" They’ve set an extreme narrative, premise and made it difficult to answer in a way that wouldn’t be controversial.
Pope Francis responded: "I thank God that he has said I am a politician, as Aristotle defined the human being as an 'animal politicus': at least I am a human being! And that I am a pawn … perhaps, I do not know. I will leave that to your judgement, to the people. A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever that may be, and not bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. With regard to what I would advise, to vote or not to vote: I would not like to become involved. I would say only that this man is not Christian. It is necessary to see if he has said these things, and for this reason I would give the benefit of the doubt".
Since then it’s been game on. The media loving any fight seized on this. Kanye West versus the world all of a sudden went from top of the headlines to a forgotten story. Donald Trump used this as another opportunity to dominate the media where he expressed outrage, adding If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President.... No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith. They are using the Pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant. In the days since, he’s backed off realizing that the original reports of what the Pope said were nowhere near accurate.
But in the meantime, various commentators went all over the place - some spewing Anti-Catholic hatred Who does the Pope think he is weighing in on US Presidential politics (obviously forgetting he was asked a question, which he answered) some "Catholics" attacked the Pope (and have continued to do so) for obviously being a socialist, a marxist, or a communist (obvious missing all sorts of instances where he’s leveled criticisms at all those different ideologies) Some called him a liberal who only cares about the poor and accused him of not speaking about other important issues like the right to life (conveniently missing how in the same press conference he said: Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. I’m waiting for the Pro-Mafia supporters to share their anger and outrage that the Pope used them as an example)
Who do we listen to? Who do we believe? By listening do we just pay attention to the words coming out of their mouths or do we pay attention to their actions, their behaviors in other areas?
It’s timely to think about that as we just heard this Gospel of the transfiguration of Jesus. This remarkable moment for Peter, James and John to see Jesus as he is communing with God the Father in this intimate, deep moment of prayer transfigured before their eyes - revealing physically, spiritually what they were coming to believe but didn’t fully understand. That Jesus wasn’t simply a great leader, a religious figure unlike they had ever encountered. He was the fulfillment of the entire Jewish tradition - the law and the prophets (illustrated by Moses and Elijah appearing and talking to him). He was more than the Messiah they had longed and hoped for... Jesus, as God the Father’s voice is heard in this fantastical scene reveals is "my chosen Son."
With that, the Father’s voice adds this important command "Listen to Him." Just a cursory read through the Gospels - this isn’t the first time God’s voice identifies Jesus as His Beloved Son with the command to "Listen to Him" (we heard that a few weeks ago when we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord - when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist - the same thing occurred). You would think these dramatic encounters would provide clarity for the listeners and more careful attention, following, and listening to all that Jesus would say. Yet, again, a casual read of the Gospels reminds us that’s not the case either. Voices of fear, of opportunism, of jealousy, of confusion would constantly grab their attention... distract them... cause them to forget that and at times abandon Jesus: some for a short time, like Peter denying he knew Jesus during his trial, his passion and crucifixion; some even more consequentially - like Judas who after betraying Jesus is so overcome with despair he hangs himself.
What has been lost in this crazy controversy this past week over Pope Francis and Donald Trump was how easily deceived many were, how divisive the words became, how foolish many of the reactions and responses were... particularly when you hear the context and the acutal responses rather than the soundbites, the 8 word headlines, the 140 character-tweet versions.
All of us who claim to be Christian – whether it’s Donald Trump, Barrack Obama; Pope Francis; you and I - we have a tremendous duty to Listen to Him - listen to Jesus Christ.
Listen to Him in the Scriptures.
Listen to Him speaking through the Church.
Listen to Him calling us to see past our own particular agendas, our own biases, our own ideologies.
Listen to Him who calls us to tremendous – albeit difficult and in fact revolutionary - love, which the world so often fails to embrace.
Listen to Him who sees in each and every human being
- from the unborn child in the womb,
to the terrified unwed pregnant teenager,
to the desperate family fleeing a place of crime and poverty hopefully looking for a new start, a new opportunity;
to you and I who have our own struggles and trials and try to balance those in the light of faith
– who sees in every human being his creative hand, his tremendous love, his hopes and dreams in the flesh.
That’s not easy. And, no we’re not supposed to to check our brains or our hearts when the Pope (or any politician for that matter) speaks and blindly follow whatever that particular leader says. God blessed us with brains and calls us to use our faith and reason. And as broken, imperfect, susceptible to sin, human beings we are ever prone to fail.
This fall, we are free to vote for whatever candidate we feel will really make our country great, really help her be true to her Founding Fathers, to the Constitution, to the things that truly make us a beacon of hope for so many. But, before we vote, before we decide on the candidate, before we spend one more minute in debate or argument or even genuine confusion at all the political posturing going on - we must look inside ourselves, to that small, quiet space where Christ is talking. We might need to stop our bickering long enough to hear His voice, His call for example of justice AND forgiveness, for domestic safety AND humanitarian aid. In short, we must do what God the Father told those assembled two thousand years ago to do; Listen to Him. And then - with time, and patience, with respectful dialogue and the use of our reason, as well - we will make that bridge our Holy Father calls us to start building today.
Thanks as always for stopping by and reading and sharing this blog on your facebook, twitter and reddit - and your comments and feedback. Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim