Did you follow the dust-up between Donald Trump and Pope Francis? And how the pope’s main point quickly and purposely got sidetracked and buried and obscured?
Francis mentioned that the spirit of religion is about building bridges between people, not walls. And he’s right. All it takes is a cursory reading of the gospels – comfort the needy, share everything with the poor, welcome the stranger, stop and help the person bleeding by the side of the road – to feel that spirit of compassion regardless of the cost.
Critics immediately dismissed Francis’ plea for bridge building by pointing out that there are walls inside the Vatican. Well, yes. And so what? There are walls everywhere in our lives. That’s totally true and completely irrelevant. The question is whether we’re inviting others to come inside our walls.
The question that Francis has repeatedly raised is this: Are we trying to tear down the walls we all have in our hearts? It always, always, always starts with what’s in our hearts.
Are our hearts open to others, or walled-off from them? Do we connect with others and love them, or do we push them away and ignore them? Are our hearts permeable, allowing love and compassion to flow both ways? Or are they as cold and hard as stone?
In other words, are we really trying to love one another?
Francis was doing what religious leaders need to be doing. He wasn’t talking only about walls on our borders. His life has been about challenging the ones we build inside ourselves with stones of fear and mistrust and hatred and self-absorption and indifference. The cold, immovable spots that become load-bearing walls for all that’s wrong with the world.
Tear down those walls first.
Yes, Francis waded into a complicated area when he started talking about immigration. There’s no simple solution to any of our problems. Life is complicated. We are complicated. But the attitude that we bring to the problems affects everything, including our politics and our religious perspectives.
If we approach problems with an open heart, then we follow the summons to bring healing and peace to the world. If we simply build higher walls and hope the problems will go away on their own, we delude ourselves. The pain and suffering multiply and overrun our world a little more. They even seep through the tear-soaked ground and work their way inside of our thick walls, too.
So what’s it going to be: Walls, or bridges? Coming together, or pushing apart? Healing, or pain? Love, or fear?
Do we try to bridge the gap of mutual misunderstanding and self-interest? Do we see refugees and immigrants as problems to be ignored or as people to be loved? Do we try to find compromise and accommodation with those who are at odds with us in some ways?
Do we reach out to those who are hungry and hurting and lost? Do we work on building a bridge that enables people to leave poverty and injustice and discrimination and despair? Do we welcome the stranger?
Do we invite into our hearts those who are different from us – different race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, political views, national origin, and on and on? Do we see everyone as an equally beloved child of God?
Or do we add more bricks and mortar and live inside a self-imposed darkness and false sense of security? Do we turn our lives into places void of love and compassion and the divine spirit that is always trying to pull us together?
Francis is right. The spirit of religion is about healing and nurturing and bringing together. And he puts the question into the politically charged air once again: Walls or bridges? What’s it going to be?
Do we open ourselves to the spirit that wants to give us new, beating hearts? Or do we choose to have hearts that are stone walls?