Standing at his open window last night, our Holy Father remembered the night 50 years ago when he himself stood in St.Peter’s Square below and looked up at Good Pope John XXIII as he stood at the same window and celebrated the opening of the Second Vatican Council. During his spontaneous remarks last night, the Pope reminisced about that evening so long ago and the joy he felt. He said we should always carry joy within us and then he reminded us that “the fire of Christ never devours or destroys.”
This reminder made me think of Joe Biden‘s debate performance last night. No matter your political stripe, it can be agreed that George Washington or Abe Lincoln this was not. The Vice President’s derision, eye rolling, inappropriate laughter and interruption of his opponent 83 times can be described as embarrassing at the least and bullying at the worst. More alarming in my mind, were the voters who were interviewed after the debate who were seemingly oblivious to the Biden’s strong arm tactics. Rudeness has apparently become socially acceptable.
Is the dichotomy between these two public personalities and their appearances last night not obvious? Without judging Joe Biden’s motivations, I am called by Christ to judge his actions, that is, to judge a tree by its fruit. The fruit that I witnessed last night was not the ‘fire of Christ which never devours or destroys.” What I witnessed was derision and mockery of his opponent that was so overt, the substance of the Vice President’s message was completely overshadowed. Whenever mockery, derision, name calling or discounting are employed, it is clear that God’s voice has been ignored.
In the Gospel reading for next Sunday, the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jesus looks “deeply and with love” at a young man who earnestly wants to know how he can become a better person. The Lord doesn’t mock or ridicule him or play to the crowd that surrounds them. The “fire of Christ” simply calls the young man to higher level of love and, therefore, perfection by telling him to sell what he has and give it to the poor. Even though Jesus correctly reads the man’s primary attachment to his wealth, Jesus doesn’t use that as a weapon against him.
And so it with us. It’s been said that we get the government we deserve. Our leaders have been voted into office by us. We, who are attached to our little comforts and are in the process of entertaining ourselves to death, cannot be bothered with the tough love that Jesus proposes to the rich young man and to us. As usual, our good Shepherd attempted again last night at the Vatican to point us gently to Christ. As Catholic Americans, it’s time for us to choose the voice we will follow.
Let’s find the ‘small flame of goodness’ that lights our path along the narrow road that Jesus walks ahead of us. Let’s gravitate toward the lowest place rather than the highest; the most respectful response rather than the most sarcastic; the place of listening rather than the place of ridicule. When we begin to live in the Flame of Goodness, perhaps we’ll begin to elect people who do too.