An atheist friend and longtime cultist here at the blog that is the Cult of the Jitterbugger emailed this to me:
“I was very impressed that the Pope [in his speech to Congress] name-checked Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, two people that I would have never known about if not for you. I was also SHOCKED and PLEASED that he actually acknowledged non-believers (that has to be a first).”
I wrote back to him, with tongue pressed firmly against cheek:
“I know. I’m pretty sure the Pope must be a longtime reader of my blawg!”
Longtime readers here at the Jitterbug Cult know that Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton have always been high on my list of faith heroes.
The Pope, who landed on my list of heroes his first week on the job, not only named and honored Merton and Day in his eloquent speech to Congress, but also name-checked my faith hero Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Francis also connected them to Lincoln, who is every American’s hero.)
The one thing that my faith heroes all had in common that appeals so strongly to me is this: They, like this living Pope, were all about the radical love of Christ.
They all were committed peacemakers who incarnated a radical love for the poor and oppressed. (Mother Theresa is obviously another high-ranking faith hero.) They pleaded for mercy and fought for justice for the very people that the radical, rabble-rousing Christ–he who was born homeless in the muck and mire of a barn a long way from any royal palace–anointed with most-favored status.
Pope Francis, of course, took on the very name of another hero, St. Francis, largely because of the great saint’s radical love of the poor (and his love of nature and the earth and all of God’s good, green Creation).
If you’ve not read or heard the Pope’s eloquent speech to Congress, here are excerpts about the aforementioned peacemakers and social justice warriors who are my heroes:
ON THOMAS MERTON:
A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.
ON DOROTHY DAY:
In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.
ON DR. KING
A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.
Here at the blog I frequently lift up my famous faith heroes to you who read it, mindful that this country and the world are full of heroic Christians who slug away every day in obscurity, incarnating the radical love and tender mercies of my Lord and savior.
I read an article the other day about a guy called “the Sandwich Man,” whose name is Alan Law, who has fed 700,000 sandwiches to the homeless in Minneapolis. I try to recognize the unsung heroics of Christians like him every chance I get. His kind keep me inspired to do more for the poor and I hope the stories I share of his kind inspire you.
Click here for Law’s story.
Here are links to just four of my faith heroes, they who rank the highest:
John Wesley: Being a cradle Methodist and ordained United Methodist deacon, I was inspired by Wesley from the time I was given a big dose of him in my Confirmation classes. He loved and served the poor, hated slavery and fought for social justice his whole, long life. He’s the theological “hero” of every devout Methodist Christian who ever was or ever will be.
Dorothy Day: I once spent Christmas week at the Houston Catholic Worker, founded by Mark and Louise Zwick–two Catholics who have been doing heroic work for the poor, especially migrants and refugees, for decades. If you want to know more about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker faith tradition, explore the Houston Catholic Worker link here.
Merton: That the Pope highlighted the lives and work of the American Catholics Day and Merton says a lot about their influence on so many Christians of all tribes, including me. More on My Main Man the Mystic Mr. Merton, as I fondly refer to him, here.
The Pope, of course, had much more to say about Dr. King in his visit to a Harlem school. More on that here.
And just a word to Pope Francis, who man after my own heart, since he obviously reads this blog:
Bless you, good man.
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