Every generation of Americans finds its own meaning in the American experience. Similarly, Catholics of all ages grapple with questions about the role that the Church and our faith play in our lives. These days, the ideological divisions among both Americans and Catholics can seem vast and irreconcilable. Such divisions - that have stymied attempts to address record poverty, long-term unemployment and the scandal of glaring inequalities among other issues - may lead us to wonder if there's hope of finding common ground "to promote the general welfare," as stated in the Preamble to the US Constitution - or as presented in the Catholic Social Justice Tradition, "the common good."
Difficult times like these call for great leaders who can inspire our confidence against seemingly long odds. St. Augustine once said, "Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation." Such words help us understand the kind of servant leaders we seek and need.
As Americans and as Catholics, we have two such extraordinary New World role models in George Washington and Pope Francis - our first president and the first pontiff from the Americas. This Virginia gentleman-farmer and this Italian-Argentine chemist have more in common than might meet the eye.
George Washington and Pope Francis, although leaders from different realms, share similarities that are defined by their humility and the role that humility has played in their style of leadership. Both spurned the trappings of power, a real and symbolic act that animates the world today as much as it did over 200 years ago. For both men, it is an indication of a decision to embrace the leadership thrust upon them in service to others.
Consider that less than a month after the British evacuated New York City in November 1783, concluding the Revolutionary War, Washington resigned as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army instead of consolidating his power over the new republic. In reaction, King George III said that Washington was "the greatest character of the age." In a Pope Francis-like gesture, at his first inaugural, Washington wore
"...a simple brown suit of American-made broadcloth, symbolizing to the world that he was taking the nation's helm, not as a lavishly-robed monarch but as the leader of a new kind of government." Washington rejected the idea, advanced by some, to crown him king. He instead chose the term "Mr. President" as his official manner of address as head of state.
Correspondingly, in presenting himself to the Church and the world the night of his election, the pope chose not to wear the red stole that his predecessors had worn and instead opted for the simplicity of only a white cassock. The pope, who has forsaken the Papal Palace for a humble apartment, has also declined to describe himself in monarchical terms, preferring the humble title of "Bishop of Rome." He recently said, "I am not a Renaissance prince, who listens to music instead of working."
|Dove-Of-Peace: Developed by George Washington and placed upon the cupola of Mt. Vernon to symbolize domestic peace for our new nation.|
In 1783, upon disbanding the Continental Army, Washington wrote, "I now make it my earnest prayer...that [God] would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of the mind, which were the characteristics of the divine Author of our blessed religion; without an humble imitation of whose example, in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation."
Similarly, in the first 100 days of his papacy, Pope Francis has focused, with clarity and passion, on those most in need and advanced a new ethic for living our lives. "The world tells us to seek success, power and money; God tells us to seek humility, service and love," he said
As we celebrate our nation's birthday with our families and friends - amidst cookouts, parades, bunting and fireworks - now is a time to reflect on both our past and our future. As Catholic Democrats
, we celebrate both the best traditions of our nation and the rich Catholic Social Justice Tradition that has helped to shape our values as a nation.
And we can give thanks and learn much from the lessons of both a Founding Father and a pope, both men of faith who found strength in their humility that allowed them to "hope against hope
" for a better world in service to others.
Have a happy and blessed Fourth of July!
With gratitude and humility,
The Catholic Democrats Team