Like many others in North America, I spent much of the past week watching news coverage of the Holy Father’s visit to the East Coast of the USA. Living along the shores of the Pacific, this meant setting my alarm particularly early and getting more coffee than usual through my workday, even as I snuck glances at the online streaming video on the corner of my desktop for the wonderful images from the week. I was thankful that many of the key “political” speeches were delivered before I’d need to head into the office.
A lot has been reported in the secular media about the brilliance of the Holy Father’s delicate dance to transcend partisanship, especially in the intensely divided climate among the legislative branch of the US. The first speech was to a joint session of Congress – notable as this was the first time a Pope had delivered such an address. Those of you who have not been following the visit so closely, I’d encourage you to take the time to review the highlights from all the major events as much as possible.
I only want to hone in on one section that bothered me and want to reflect upon it. I know much discussion around this section had already taken place within the pro-life community and I want to offer an explanation that assuages any disappointments. This paragraph begins and builds up brilliantly:
Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12). This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.
This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty.
Between the Sustained Applause and the next sentence, I did a double-take – I could swear an edit took place which took out the transition from abortion, euthanasia to capital punishment. I can see the seamless garment that ties all these (and other) issues together, but to skip illustrating it is incredibly strange. This bothered me and I prayed for an explanation that had their been an edit, that it had been done out of prudence.
Then I was reminded about a passage I read about Mother Teresa’s address during the Clinton Administration at a National Prayer Breakfast. Peggy Noonan reports, starting with quoting Mother Teresa’s speech:
Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love one another but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.
Again applause, and I looked once more to the woman on my right. As the applause spread she sat back in her chair and folded her hands on her lap. Then she briskly reached for her purse and took out a notepad. She took out a slim gold pen. It gleamed in the ballroom lights. She started writing down words.
I couldn’t resist, I peered as un-obviously as I could to see what she was writing. “Shop Rite,” it said on the hospital-white pad. “Cleaners.”
She was making a To Do list. That was how she detached from the moment. She did not like what she had just heard but she couldn’t walk out, couldn’t boo, so she made a little list of things to do.
Perhaps the Holy Father needed to maintain the attention of the audience and not have them withdraw from his important message. Perhaps this is the start of a dialogue that will lead legislators on both sides of the aisle down the road to an integral regard for all human dignity, starting at the point where perhaps there is as much agreement as there is dissent on both sides (Democrats are not unilaterally anti-capital punishment just as Republicans are not predominantly pro-capital punishment).
Indeed the Holy Father does touch upon abortion in subsequent speeches, so no way is he personally ambiguous on this matter, except that the urgency of present issues such as the defunding of Planned Parenthood are not obviously relevant to speeches that are hopefully more timeless. I do hope this is not simply charitable reaching but an unlocking of the hidden wisdom in these words. I do believe this is the best approach to use with the Holy Father’s more head-scratching statements.
Let us continue to pray for him in his difficult role as Shepherd of the world.
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