I was genuinely touched by the actions of Pope Francis in America because he dared to say out loud what most citizens know – that America is inherently unfair and handsomely rewards the privileged. While Americans proudly reveled in their Catholic faith during the Pope’s visit, I wondered where was their faith when nine black parishioners lay dead in Charleston, South Carolina while Southerners championed the Confederate flag of black oppression. Where was their faith when Congress repeatedly voted to defund or obliterate The Affordable Healthcare Act which has blessed millions? John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, is typical of white America’s convenient faith which surfaces on occasion but seldom makes it into daily practice.
Pope Francis’ is a man of integrity. He choose to ride in an inexpensive Fiat rather than a limousine. He choose to sleep in humble quarters. He choose to touch children, the sick and feeble. He paused to mingle with ordinary people. He spoke truth to power. I am certain the Lord is pleased with that. However, why doesn’t this compassion trickle down to the average American Catholic who continues to vote against efforts to improve the quality of life for middle class and poor Americans? Did Jeb Bush forget his Catholic faith when he alleged that black people vote for Democratic candidates because they receive “free stuff?” Did he miss John 13:35 which denounces his racism by declaring “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another?” Bush forgot the “free stuff” black folk gave America in free slave labor for years.
I watched the obeisance given to the Pope and believe he is recasting the Papacy from a kingship into servant-leadership as God intended. He does not believe himself to be infallible. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus redefined faith from outward show to inward righteousness before God. This is the faith the Pope trumpeted in the House of Representatives. Now, that the pomp and circumstance of his visit has abated, will Catholic believers shun the ungodly behavior of our leaders by voting against ungodly behaviors?
The same people who rail against abortions do not support prenatal care, healthcare or sound education for children who are born, dooming them to illness and poverty. The same Americans who say the government has no place in our private lives speak against United States Supreme Court decisions that protect privacy and the right to choose. The same Americans who decry the peaceful Black Lives Matter movement had nothing to say when Cliven Bundy and his armed militiamen used America’s Second Amendment to face down federal authorities. This bifurcated spirituality never seems to find fault in the wrongdoings that hinder America from the greatness to which it aspires.
Pope Francis acted judiciously as a religious leader. He challenged us to be better, not because it is his (the Pope’s) will, but God’s will for us. Did not Jesus say in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.” This was the Pope’s message that this country to whom so much has been given is obligated to give back more. The Presidential candidates who foment racism against blacks, Latinos and people of color do not live their faith. Americans who support the Confederate flag fail in their faith. Politicians who perpetuate hatred against Muslims based on falsehoods “fall short of the glory of God. The Pope showed us all how to be better.
Dr. Jeffrey Dean Swain is Dean of Campus Ministry at Florida Memorial University and an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice.