I nearly wore holes in my shoes this week. I guess that’s what happens on a pilgrimage. I guess that’s what this week was for me, for all of us in Washington DC.
Pope Francis arrived here on Tuesday, to great anticipation. He wasted no time in communicating his story, as well as the story of the Catholic faith, at the White House and then with the U.S. bishops. And today, he continued his compelling pontificate by addressing the United States Congress. His remarks
were one part American history lesson, one part homily, and one part encouragement to end polarized political gridlock for the sake of the common good.
As the Director of the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice at Xavier, I was thrilled to eat lunch with the great Jim Wallis of Sojourners yesterday. Our group talked a lot about faith, community, and politics. Jim relayed a fantastic story of meeting Dorothy Day in Chicago during his younger days and we laughed at her title for him: the Protestant Worker, a play off of her own Catholic Worker movement that fed the hungry across the nation in small local houses of hospitality.
Even more thrilling, then, was the use of Dorothy Day in the Pope’s speech to Congress. He called her a daughter of America, who stood up for the poor and oppressed. This, of course, is why our Center is so named… We desire to form students at Xavier for lives committed to faith and justice and we desire to walk with them as they discover ways to love the world around them in radical ways.
So what has his visit to America taught us or re-taught us?
For me, being in DC with him as a pilgrim this week has given me the chance to reflect on how closely he aligns his faith and values with his deeds and choices. This is a man who has cleared away all that is unneccessary, so that the neccessary might speak more clearly in his life. He lives simply. He dresses simply. He rode around town in a small Fiat this week. These are seemingly small choices that reflect his deep conviction to be in solidarity with those who have very little on this earth.
Why does he do these things? Pope Francis teaches me that what we do in life flows from what we believe. And what we believe is tied very closely to what we see and hear in the world around us. And what we see is entirely dependent on where we choose to stand. It is so very clear that Pope Francis chooses to stand with those who have no power, whose voices are not heard, with those who are forgotten.
So I ask myself: where do I stand? Where do I devote my time and attention? Where do I devote my money and my vocation? With whom do I spend my time? To whom do I listen?
Everyone was quick to predict what political hot button topics Pope Francis would address this morning before Congress. On the contrary, he told stories of faith, stories of our nation’s hereos, and stories of those with whom he stands. And where he stands is a place where there are far too many people broken and suffering in a world of abundance. As Fr. Graham, President of Xavier University, often says: Good enough isn’t. Its time to revive the work of Lincoln, King, Day, Merton. Pope Francis challenges us and our leaders to do more: start to heal the earth and reverse our throwaway culture, help the stranger, the sick, the homeless instead of pursuing our own comfort at all costs, and come to the table of dialogue with a heart for encountering one another and the lives of our most vulnerable instead of seeking sharper divide.
That is a message that can’t be claimed by any political party. But it is a clarion call to all who hear his message and witness his life. It is a call to all people of good will. Though I return to Cincinnati today as the Pope moves on to another American city, I will continue to watch him and listen to him this week and beyond. I will do this because his leadership, simple lifestyle and prophetic voice are guideposts for uncovering a life of meaning and purpose for me personally and I believe his voice has the potential to awaken a new era of global cooperation that could begin to end the cycles of poverty and violence we see ravaging the world today. The challenge for me, for all of us: how will we allow his words to change what we do, or what we believe, or where we stand?
Greg Carpinello is the director of the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice and a Xavier alumnus.