The past week, we followed the coverage of Pope Francis’ pastoral visits to Cuba and the US.
One of the major themes in his message in Cuba was tolerance, how we must learn to live with different people. This resonates with us because we have seen him live this out.
The Holy Father has approached divisive issues with a simple yet profound pastoral sense: on gays seeking a genuine relationship with Christ, “who am I to judge”; on abortion, to forgive those who sincerely repent; on broken marriages and annulment, he does not only take away the inordinate guilt from those who go through such situations, but also gives them hope to start over again and exhorts the Church process to be more facilitative.
But his tolerance is not willy-nilly or anchored on popular issues to say what will please the crowd. This was made clear in a story by one of the press people who was with him on the plane in the Cuban leg of his trip.
Asked if he was not taking the Church too far to the left, enough to be accused of being a Marxist, the Pope gave a clear and emphatic response—he was simply preaching and pushing the social teaching or doctrine of the Church.
One significant word the Pope repeatedly used in his talks was “integral.”
What he exhorts the people to consider and live out is “integral” to the Church’s mission and teaching, indeed to Christian life.
This, we see, is the source of his tolerance, the integrity of his message and ministry that is deeply rooted in the Church’s mission. This mission is to proclaim and make present the mercy and compassion of Christ, God’s love for all.
This is the opening message of today’s Gospel. As Christ tells John and the other disciples, “Do not prevent them. For whoever is not against us is for us.” Christ lays down the basic tenet of tolerance—he may not be one of us, but he may be with or for us.
He then proceeds to talk about what seems like a discourse on reward and punishment. But let us focus on the themes of integrity and tolerance.
Recently we’ve taken note of political TV ads and related it to an event that awarded groups which inspire with their core values. The similarity was how the TV ads and the guest speaker in the event started with putdowns of others before exhorting the virtues and values they wanted people to emulate—for the most part about themselves, i.e., the people behind the ads and the speaker, of course, disguised as service.
Two points to reflect on in these examples:
One, we need to be very aware of and deeply believe in our core, who we are, and why we are here—our mission and meaning. Two, to show our core is to present what is distinctive about us, with no need for putdowns.
Note that in the past two Sundays, the Gospel focused on the core of Christ’s mission; and last Sunday, Christ emphatically placed this core in the service of others, of all. This, too, is our core and our mission, to live Christ’s pattern of the Cross and the Resurrection in our life in the service of others, “that others may have life and life to the full.”
In the same way that Christ questions the ambition of his followers who wanted “to be first,” we must also reflect on our own inclination “to be first” and most especially at the expense of others; highlighting the putdowns and the negativity of others to make our self look good.
The invitation this Sunday is to live a life of tolerance toward others—a tolerance that accepts the differences and aims to create common ground, and helps shape things toward the realization of shared hopes and aspirations.
Those who saw and listened to the Pope’s historic speech before the joint session of the US Congress witnessed how he gracefully—and I mean with amazing grace from God—tackled divisive issues, and even if for that “one brief shining moment” showed it is possible to talk about such issues and encourage dialogue.
Accentuate the positive
It was amazing how, in each section of his address, he opened with a revered American icon and the virtue he/she exemplified. Then he expounded on concerns both shared and contentious.
Toward the end, he summarized positively: “Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.”
The virtues of each icon are the virtues of tolerance the Pope and the Gospel this Sunday talk about. The tolerance Christ exhorts us to live by is not simply live and let life, but live so others may have life to the full.
These virtues and values come to life in the small things we try to do with genuine integrity, without the need to put others down or be negative so that we may shine.
This is the invitation for us this Sunday, to live with integrity and tolerance in the service of Christ’s mission. This message of integrity and tolerance was even more dramatically lived out when the Pope, after his speech to the US Congress, stepped out into the balcony to greet and bless the tens of thousands who gathered outside Congress.
The Pope told the crowd: “Please pray for me; those who find it hard to believe and to pray, send me your best wishes.” Amazing tolerance rooted and grounded in an amazing integrity. Amazing grace.