by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of American Reporter Correspondents
October 1, 2015
A PLEA FOR PEACE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE TO A NATION NOT LISTENING
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- I don't know whether anyone in Congress really heard what Pope Francis was saying when he spoke on the House floor last week in Washington, but at least he tried. Given the dismal record of the Republican-led Congress, it was clear who the Pope was addressing when said the men and women in the chamber "are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.
A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you."
And by invoking the names and memories of two of the great American Catholics of the 20th Century - Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton - he was challenging Congress, and the rest of our political leaders, to stand on the side of social justice and peace.
Pope Francis put Day and Merton on the same level as Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as four commendable "representatives of the American people."
Day, who co-founded the Catholic Worker movement, was a radical writer and activist who upheld the dignity of the poor, was a war tax resistor, and was jailed often in protests against racism, militarism, and other violence against humanity.
"If your brother is hungry, you feed him," Day once said. "You don't meet him at the door and say, 'Go be thou filled,' or, 'Wait for a few weeks, and you'll get a welfare check.' You sit him down and feed him," she said.
Merton, a Trappist monk, teacher and thinker, sought to promote peace and non-violence through dialogue with others. The Catholic church has never been completely comfortable with Merton, especially with his embrace of other religions and spiritual paths.
He was a believer in the contemplative life, but like Day, he was also a believer in social justice and was as vehement in his opposition to war and militarism, just in a quieter way.
As he wrote, "...[I]t is true, political problems are not solved by love and mercy. But the world of politics is not the only world, and unless political decisions rest on a foundation of something better and higher than politics, they can never do any real good for men."
By name-checking Day and Merton, and praising their work, the Pope was crystal clear about the standard that needs to be met by everyone.
"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.'
"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.
"A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to 'dream' of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton."
Maybe we are too far gone as a nation to rise to the challenge offered by Pope Francis. Maybe we are too divided, too lost in our own agendas to see that we need to be on a different course. I would like to believe otherwise.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A .from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist working in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.