A Study in Contrast and Paradox: The Pope’s Thursday Schedule

CREDIT: Jaclyn Lippelmann, The Catholic Standard

On Thursday morning, Pope Francis will speak at a joint session of Congress. Shortly thereafter he will journey to a nearby center of Catholic Charities. In so doing, he will be meeting very different groups of people: politicians, and the poor, legislators and the less fortunate.

There is in these visits a powerful contrast. But not all things are as they appear for not as man sees does God see. Let’s consider both.

The day will begin in the well of the U.S. Congress. This will be the first time that a pope has addressed a joint session of Congress. He does so as a religious and moral leader, but also as a head of state. In fact, many of the honors the pope has been accorded, including arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, an official welcome, and Secret Service protection are due to his status as the head of state of the Vatican City State, the smallest internationally recognized state in the world.

But do not miss the stunning image here: a pope addressing Congress. Such a thing would have been unthinkable before the 1960s. Catholics were generally considered with suspicion by the Protestant majority in the United State. They wondered if our loyalties were here or with the Vatican. Wave after wave of Catholic immigrants in the early 20th century also created fear in the minds of many Americans. These Catholics immigrants were poor and brought with them many of the social ills associated with poverty. Thus, anti-Catholic sentiment ran deep before the 1960s. And despite Catholics gaining local power in many northeastern cities, it was generally difficult for Catholics to be elected to national office. In those times, people who talked about the important of the “separation of Church and State” usually had Catholics in mind.

Much of the severity of sectarian hostility has waned, even as secular hostility against the Church has risen. But most people who lived before 1960 could never have imagined a pope addressing a joint session of Congress or receiving the sorts of state-sponsored honors you have seen; it would have been politically impossible.

Yet note a further paradox! In many minds, this address of the pope to Congress is one to arguably the most powerful body on this planet. The men and women gathered there sit atop billion dollar budgets and make decisions that affect the entire world, let alone the United States. The fate and well-being of many depends on them.

But not all things are as they appear. For that body of individuals is likely the second most important group the pope will address on Thursday. The most important and influential group awaits him at his next stop: the poor at Catholic Charities.

Please be assured that I do not make this observation with the common class hatred/envy that simplistically concludes that all rich and powerful people are evil and greedy while all the poor are good and holy. Things are never that black and white. There are sinners and saints in each group.

But understand this: the poor, the suffering, and the vulnerable are far more powerful than most of us imagine. Consider that while the poor need us in this life, we are going to them in the next. The Lord Jesus counseled us, I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, they will welcome you into eternal dwellings (Lk 16:9). In other words, if we are generous to the poor here, they are going to be powerful advocates for us on our judgment day.

Mother Mary, too, spoke of a great reversal that is coming: he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty (Lk 1:52-53). And Jesus added, But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first (Matt 19:30). And Psalm 72 says, The Lord hears the cry of the poor (Ps 72).

It seems that many of us here are going to have to make an appointment to be able to see them in Heaven! Many who are poor, suffering, and vulnerable now are going to have the highest places in Heaven, and they’re going have a lot to say about our final judgment. It’s not bad advice to befriend them now because we’re going to need them later!

So which is the most powerful group the pope will address on Thursday? Well, you decide. But remember, things are not always as they appear; God does not see as man sees.