While much coverage was given to the events on the Pope’s schedule – his flight arrival in D.C., his visit to the White House, the Papal Mass of Canonization at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – there were two “unscheduled” events yesterday that really stood out:
- After the Canonization Mass, Pope Francis made sure to stop by the convent of the Little Sisters of the Poor, the nuns who have been fighting a lawsuit against the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act.
- During the parade – with all the tight security that we’ve been hearing about for the past 3 weeks – a 5-year-old girl somehow “broke through security”, complete with letter in-hand to give to the Pope, with her hopes that her illegal immigrant parents will be legalized.
While these events at first appeared to be spontaneous, upon further reflection, each event seems to have been planned.
The visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor has been touted as a sort of protest of Obamacare on the part of the Pope. It seems unlikely that the Pope would, on the spur of the moment, say to his driver, “Let’s stop by this random convent.” Rather, it would appear that this was on the Pope’s unofficial schedule, but not released publicly precisely to draw extra attention to the irregularity of breaking schedule.
Likewise, it seems unlikely that a little girl could get through Secret Service security, flanking lines of D.C. police, the FBI, the Swiss Guard, etc. and just so happens also to have a letter about illegal immigration that is handed directly to the Pope (the contents of which was somehow in the hands of every major media outlet within minutes). While Christians should heed Jesus’s words not to prohibit the children from coming to Him (Mark 10:14), they also need to be cautious that they do not “cause one of these little ones who believe in me to sin” (Matt 18:6).
These two events highlight two aspects of the public practice of the Catholic faith that are often conflated, especially by politicians. Vice President Biden made the comment last month that, “Pope Francis has breathed new life into what I believe is the central mission of our faith: Catholic social doctrine.” Unfortunately, he is mistaken.
There are certain “non-negotiable” issues that are integral to the Catholic faith. Those that are central to the faith – the matters of faith and morals – admit of only one morally valid position. These are timeless issues that are always to be followed. Some examples of these issues are: opposition to abortion, euthanasia, artificial birth control, so-called “same-sex marriage”, racism, human cloning, and embryonic stem cell research.
On the other hand, there are other social issues that must be addressed as well because they flow from the Catholic understanding of human dignity. The social doctrine of the Church, while important, is not central to the faith. It is an out-growth from the central tenets of the Trinity and the mission of the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, who became man, suffered, died, and rose again. These social issues may have multiple, morally valid options for addressing them in our place and time, provided they are examined through the eyes of faith. Some examples of these social issues would be that care for the poor (CCC 2443-2449), the immigrant (CCC 2241), and the disabled (CCC 2433). These are social imperatives for the Christian, but how best to go about providing that care via the state (or whether it is even a state concern; cf. paragraph 4 of Rerum Novarum) is a legitimate topic for Catholics to debate, provided they do so within the bounds of other Church teachings.
Pray for our nation, that it’s divisions may be healed by a common love of our Lord. Also pray for our Pope, our Church, and our faith to not be a political football, but rather to remember the Great Commission: to be the authentic message of Christ’s love for all people and his call to repentance and obedience.
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18b-20)