A message Americans needed to hear

A message Americans needed to hear


He called it “a shameful and culpable silence.” Addressing an unprecedented joint meeting of both houses of Congress, with the generals and the admirals in the front row, Pope Francis spoke truth to the most powerful legislature and government in the world, the one that regularly legislates two thirds of a trillion dollars to arms each year. It is fully two thirds of the discretionary federal budget. No wonder there is so little left for what other world governments routinely allot for true human social needs, like paid maternity and paternity leave of up to a year, or college tuition aid. Some Americans dismiss their sensible largess as socialism.

This silence is the shared complicity of a citizenry that pays the salaries of the suits dutifully applauding the pope. It silently rubber-stamps that high a percentage as though we were still in World War II, from which time this has become as customary as July Fourth fireworks. This is culpable, or blameworthy. Our nation has allowed itself to be lulled into thinking we need this outrageous economic imbalance to assure we have enough jobs, or to protect us even though we outspend on defense all the other nations of the world combined, or that we may force other nations to accept our economic supremacy, or for whatever reason. We defeated the Soviets by spending them into the ground. Now we are doing that to ourselves as impartial studies show how worker productivity grows yet while wages sink, failing to keep pace for the good of the very people responsible for the prosperity. Meanwhile it is never enough for the 1-percenters who grow exponentially richer, and who use their resources to hoodwink voters to keep shooting themselves in the foot.

We need a pope to come into the House chamber to shake us by the lapels because we have long been in a hypnotic trance, believing that if a little war economy is good, imagine how much better a big one is. He issued a call to conversion, a religious term meaning not that someone leaves one religious tradition to “convert” to another. It means what the New Testament means, turning one’s heart away from a ruinous but-taken-for-granted way of living to a whole new and far superior way, like going from addiction to sobriety.

We Americans have a habitual, business-as-usual war mentality instead of a peace perspective. For decades we have just assumed that there is no other way to devise foreign policy or domestic economics. A better way — in fact, a better Christian way — is to see to it that we eliminate poverty and replace it with an economy that looks out for everyone, the way many progressive European countries have. Of course, they know they can rely on us for our military umbrella.

I still think we ought to repeal the Second Amendment, drafted at a time when local militias needed arms since they were the local police. It has long been so misapplied that we see nothing wrong with there being 300 million handguns in a nation of 330 million people. Those overseas countries enjoying prosperity, and many not so prosperous, have outlawed handguns. We, however, see nothing wrong with 88 U.S. handgun deaths a day, or a gun in the home being 22 times likelier to hurt or kill a family member or friend than to confront an intruder. We are so inured to violence that we freely permit death weapons across the board, and we with lock-step logic bankroll military arsenals and governmental pretenses of world domination.

When Francis said things like ending capital punishment, as many nations long ago did, many loyal Americans cringed. Was he a delusional religious figure uttering platitudes? Or was he someone with his hand on the world pulse? When the major TV channels preempted all shows, when Philadelphia went into lockdown, when calendar and clock count-downs appeared for weeks before the pope’s arrival, when dignified politicos scrambled to get close the way fans mob a rock star, I think Francis evidenced that he had the hearts of millions. He invoked four Americans, two of whom were non-Catholics, and two Catholics who had led early lives bad enough to disqualify them from mention by previous popes. Dorothy Day had an abortion and Thomas Merton fathered a child with whom he lost contact. They both are being proposed for canonization.

After this, does anyone want to say that the church is fumblingly irrelevant?