Pope Francis & Congress: A listening heart and when not to boycott

Pope Francis has begun his first trip to the United States. I, for one, am extremely excited and intrigued to see what will transpire over the next few days and the ways in which Pope Francis will challenge everyone in their lives and in their faith. I will not be heading to any events as giant crowds are not my favorite and I am openly jealous of those with the opportunity to encounter Pope Francis in smaller settings. Knowing how special this trip is, I was surprised to hear that Catholic Rep. Paul Gossar (R-AZ) has decided to boycott Pope Francis’ address to Congress due to the apparent likelihood that Pope Francis will focus a great deal on climate change. I have read through his statement and am left confused by his choice.

Rep. Gossar says he has “a moral obligation and leadership responsibility to call out leaders, regardless of their titles, who ignore Christian persecution and fail to embrace opportunities to advocate for religious freedom and the sanctity of human life.” If one does read “Laudato Si,” they will find abortion is addressed there, as an issue for care of all of God’s creation (LS 120). Human life is sacred and also finite, limited and reliant upon an environment that supports it. Care for the world around us is vitally important in itself but human life cannot sustain in a world unable to support it.

Other Catholic politicians have openly criticized Pope Francis’ decision to focus on climate change in “Laudato Si,” including Rick Santorum stating that “the church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we are probably better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”  There is a presumption that theology and morality have no bearing on how one ought to approach an issue such as climate change. Is climate change a scientific matter? Absolutely. But, like many other aspects of science, climate change has a great effect on all of God’s people in the world – especially the most vulnerable. Climate change – whether or not one believes human behavior has contributed to it – will affect the poorest among us who do not have resources and means to navigate the effects of a changing environment. Humanity will have to respond to changing climate at some point in time and, as with any choices that must be made, determine the ethical implications of our choices and the impacts those choices will have.

Rep. Gossar says that his Jesuit education taught him to “think critically, to welcome debate and discussions.”  Debate, discussion and critical thinking are vital to navigating the application of theology and one’s personal faith to how one approaches the world and decisions in general. The world remains complex which does require cautious and intentional action but that complexity also requires human beings as disciples to keep an open heart and an open mind so that we may always be open to how God continues to reveal in the world. Boycotting Pope Francis’ address is an outright refusal to be open to what our Holy Father may share. And – as with anything he does – one can never be completely sure what Pope Francis will say or do. He may talk about climate change. He may tackle a completely different topic. He may very well call attention to the persecution of many peoples or to abortion in regards to current funding for Planned Parenthood. He says a lot of things I am happy to hear – and plenty of things that hold me accountable and make me uncomfortable. But then I can try to wrestle with why that it and what this discomfort may be calling me to.

Listening to someone we think is wrong is never easy and at times can be difficult to stomach. If as disciples we cannot keep an open heart, we are going to miss something. We never know what someone else is going to say or what it is we may hear. A dialogue can never happen if one side is missing. We can also never know how what we say will be received and if we are creating an experience of grace for another. If we aren’t even open to listening we have no idea what we may miss out on. Rep. Gossar is choosing to miss out on an incredible opportunity that few have simply because he is unwilling to listen. How can we let ourselves truly hear everything that is said, not only what we want to hear? How can we all keep listening hearts open not only for Pope Francis but for anyone we may encounter?

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