In a famous scene from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus settles a question about paying taxes to Rome by saying, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” In doing so Jesus makes clear the intent of his mission and reveals how well he understood the political landscape of his time. This doesn’t mean Jesus was political but does indicate that he was savvy in regards to dealing with harsh realities.
During Pope Francis’s visit to the United States, many have argued that his mission is a political one. His message regarding many topics seems political to many who listen but do not hear. Those on either side of the aisle know where they stand on things the pope has addressed – poverty, immigration, war, and the environment for instance, but the pope elucidates his stance with clarity and then most people miss the point of it all.
Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey may have been seen as one of the most stunningly shrewd political choices ever made, but people lose sight that Jesus only had the pastoral in mind. Pope Francis has moved in the shadow of Christ as he went about business in the U.S.A. By making certain that he got to meet the poor, addressing victims of sexual abuse by priests, and literally touching the masses who came to see him (and even posing for selfies with some of them), Francis has shown that he understands as Jesus did what matters most – the people whom he serves.
Whether Francis is talking about the environment (which he claims has “rights” just as people do) or immigration, his goal is ostensibly pastoral – meaning that he is concerned for the spiritual and physical health of his flock and all the rest of the human race who may not consider themselves believers. In doing so he makes the most important steps the leader of the Catholic Church can make – Christ-like ones.
There is a terrific web site devoted to the pope’s visit that allows the faithful or the just plain interested to follow and track events the pope has attended. Anyone will be impressed by the ground the pontiff has covered, especially considering that he is 78 years old and suffering from various ailments.
As the pope bids adieu to America in Philadelphia, he leaves us with much to think about and the memory of his kindness, decency, and powerful presence. In places such as the Capitol in Washington D.C., where he spoke to a joint session of Congress, and the United Nations in New York, where he addressed the General Assembly, the pope was unrelenting in his call for the sanctity of human life and the need for changes in behavior in order to fulfill a mandate of loving one another to make the world a better place.
Perhaps his most important message was when he echoed the words of Jesus: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” These words are saliently appropriate for the Congress, the UN, the President of the United States, and every person living on earth. If people operated in this way on a daily basis, much of the suffering and most of the problems in the world would be negligible – and this includes treating the earth itself with the respect it deserves.
Pope Francis is so enlightening because he does not take the standard route, does not proclaim his faith as unyielding so that it makes or breaks people; furthermore, this thoroughly modern pope is open to change more than any of his predecessors. In reality this is just bringing the faith back to the Gospel message and to the essence of Jesus, who warned us not to judge others lest we be judged.
Looking at the entirety of Francis’s time in America, he made many friends, earned many new fans, and brightened people’s lives with his smile and earnest message of good news. Pope Francis is not your grandfather or father’s pope – he is your grandchildren’s and great grandchildren’s pope! He proclaims the future of the church (and in essence the world) is based on family – a notion that needs to be seriously embraced by all since the human race is basically one big family.
Francis is a man who understands the world as well as Jesus understood his time, but his vision is for the future and how well we can live our lives both spiritually and physically. Much of what he said while here will not be forgotten by those with open hearts and minds, while others will sadly go back to business as usual after he is gone – especially the politicians who time and time again appear to listen but not truly hear what someone has said.
The pope’s mission, despite all its seemingly political trappings, was a stunning success and meant to drive home a pastoral message of love and hope. As he leaves it is now up to Americans to heed his call for change and more compassion, and we must be up to that challenge if we ever expect the world to be a better place.
Photo credits: Washington post, facebook, reuters, abcnews.com[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1601375026]