Pope Francis gave Congress a job description. He said, “You are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.” And in every sentence he urged Congress to come together to work for the common good. And he called for solidarity.
And then he told members of Congress who might not know what that meant, to consult the people the pope thinks of as the greatest American thinkers—Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. He literally gave us a lesson in our own history and in the ideas that make us great.
And what will Congress find if it turns to the thoughts of those great Americans?
Lincoln said, “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital.”
Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.
Day said, “I am sure that God did not intend that there be so many poor. The class structure is of our making and our consent, not His. It is the way we have arranged it, and it is up to us to change it. So we are urging revolutionary change.”
Merton said, in his last remarks on his death bed, “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another and all involved in one another.”
What the pope was saying, in every word of his speech—was that America is so wondrous—so rich in our democratic heritage, so fortunate in our wealth and power—that Congress has special responsibilities to govern our nation in a way that respects the “transcendent dignity of the human being” and that harnesses our great capacity for creating wealth to a moral social vision—“the right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise.”
And he had a warning and a call to action that is long overdue: “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance, Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good; that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and in peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.”
All of us alive at this moment are fortunate indeed to have been present when this message came to our Capitol.