People often claim that the Catholic Church is simply not relevant in the 21st century, yet Pope Francis’s visit to the United States clearly shows that She is just as relevant as ever. What other leader’s presence causes most news outlet to change their normal programing to catch his every word, or brings the president to publicly declare on the White House lawn the greatness of the Church in the United States, or moves lawmakers to tears and moves millions of everyday Americans flocking to Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia, braving long lines and tight security for the hope of simply catching a glimpse of the Vicar or Christ on earth? Anytime a Pope visits it is truly a time of special blessing and there is a reawaking of the faith for many who have fallen away, a deepening of faith for those who are practicing and an invitation for all people to discover the beauty of the Catholic Church. Wherever you find yourself, if Pope Francis’s visit has moved you to deepen your faith please know you are most welcome here and I am always here to talk with you.
While Pope Francis has certainly taken the world by storm, he is not without controversy for some. Politicians, media pundits and even Catholics seize his words to push their agenda, leaving some to ask if the Pope is a socialist, if he is really prolife, and even if the Pope is really Catholic, but this line of questioning is too political and completely misses the point. Pope Francis does not think in political terms, he doesn’t think as a conservative or a liberal, rather Pope Francis thinks in terms of the person, what he calls the “theology of encounter.”
Pope Francis is teaching us that Jesus came not as a philosophical idea or political system, but as a person. He is showing us that God became man to have a relationship with us as persons. He is reminding us that we are not ideas, categories, or political alliances. While we can often identify ourselves as Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, white or black, gay or straight, pro-life or pro-choice, etc. behind the label or idea is a person: a person with a life story and an eternal destiny. Pope Francis is reminding us that the teaching of Jesus calls us to put aside these labels and to come person to person with our brothers and sisters recognizing that we are all children of the same God who is our Father. He is challenging us to defend the teachings of Jesus Christ while reminding us to ask ourselves how do I encounter a person. Do I truly meet the person or do I label them? His visit to the United States invites us to pause for a moment to strip away the emotionalism and ideology and to ask: who are the people in this hot-button “issue”? Have I allowed for a heart-to-heart encounter with a person? Can I look beyond the labels and name calling to see a person? While the Church, unabashedly upholds the dignity of every human life and the intrinsic evil of abortion she knows that often times many women feel trapped in their situations or feel forced into an abortion. This is why, we as a Church, work to provide resources for women in difficult and crisis pregnancy’s, why we work to bring lasting changes to social structures that leave some women feeling like abortion is their only option and why the Archbishop has a standing promise to any woman that our Archdiocese will provide any funds necessary to help a woman raise her child.
We as Catholics cannot preach that abortion is wrong and then fail to help those who feel like they have no other choice. We must also work to help men and women who have had an abortion and are struggling with the consequences of their choice because we know that God’s mercy is truly boundless, and His hope is available to all people, regardless of the mistakes we have made.
If we truly want to be prolife, we must recognize that the culture of death goes deeper than just abortion and we must examine ourselves and how we have contributed to the culture of death in our society remembering that anytime we deny someone the rights and dignity that is due to them as a person, we contribute to the culture of death. Have I, by my words or actions, supported or encouraged abortion? Have I, by my thoughts, words, or actions, treated someone as less than equal? Have I treated someone as less deserving of respect and dignity because of their race, their socioeconomic situation, their age, their beliefs, their ability to work, their mental or physical abilities, or the choices they have made? In what ways have I contributed to the idea that some people are less worthy of rights and respect than others? As a Church, we work to protect not just the rights of the unborn, but of all people, certainly by our words, but most importantly by our actions.
There is great evil in our society today and we cannot remain silent. We must speak out to defend the unborn and in defense of marriage, but we must speak not only with our words but with our actions, striving not to debate with philosophies or political alliances but rather searching out opportunities for encounters with human people, created in the image and likeness of God, remembering that “the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity. Man is the source, the focus, and the aim of all economic and social life.”
 Pope Benedict XVI Caritas In Veritate par. 25.