“One Who Has Hope Lives Differently.” That quote from Pope Benedict XVI was featured in ads from the Archdiocese of Washington that appeared on capital-area public transportation in the run-up to (and now wake of) the April papal visit to the United States.
And if you’ve listened to any of President Bush recently, you’ve seen a politician who appears to be living differently than your stereotypical poll-driven one. Pope Benedict XVI came to America last week with the theme “Christ Our Hope.” Our Methodist president is singing a similar hymn.
There’s a spring in the presidential step lately. Maybe it’s the freedom that comes with being in your final stretch. But, if you’ve listened to the last week or so of President Bush — speaking at the papal welcome ceremony last week, at a dinner in the pope’s honor, at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, and Thursday at a schools summit, it seems like something more. The rumor in Catholic circles last week was he’s destined to pull a Tony Blair — become a Catholic after his White House years. One oped columnist already went so far as to wonder if he was a secret Catholic. I don’t know about conversion — even if he has been cited praising “joyful Catholic nuns” and calling the Church a “rock in a raging sea” — but I do know he sounds like a man with a higher calling than making history books with a legacy plan.
At the Prayer Breakfast last Friday morning, the president cited the Word to plug his support for faith-based organizations:
I don’t know if you really realize this, but in 2006, 3,000 direct federal grants totaling more than $2 billion were made to faith-based organizations — including many Catholic organizations. And the reason why is because Catholic organizations provide shelter to the homeless in very effective and loving ways. They tutor at-risk youth. They help children of prisoners, while at the same time they work tirelessly to help prisoners get back on their feet. These groups seek out our society’s most vulnerable and fulfill Christ’s promise that “the last shall be first.
He would go on to say “with the trust in the Lord’s wisdom and goodness, I offer prayers of my own: for each gathered in the room, for the safety and success of the Holy Father’s visit, and for God’s continued blessings on our great land.”
“Hope” was the word of the day at a White House Summit on Inner-City Children and Faith-Based Schools in Washington on Thursday. With Catholic schools no small part of the faith-based-school picture, the president naturally plugged a few successful current success stories, including Cristo Rey Jesuit schools, Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education teacher-training service program, and a remarkable turnaround in Memphis Catholic schools, based on many prayers, a mandate to get to otherwise “abandoned” children, and some serious donor investments (to the tune of $10 million). But first President Bush started out there talking about the papal visit again: “It was an extraordinary moment for all who were directly involved, and I think extraordinary moment for all of America.” And, ultimately, after talking about the treasures that are faith-based schools, he wound up back at Benedict:
[L]et me close with what happened at National Stadium with His Holy Father. When he celebrated mass there, one of the objects he blessed at the end of the mass was the new cornerstone of the Pope John Paul the Great High School in Arlington, Virginia. Isn’t that interesting? I’m sure there was a lot of demands on His Holy Father, but he took time to bless the cornerstone of a school.
And my hope is, is that we’re laying cornerstones for new schools here or revived schools; that we take the spirit of the Holy Father and extend it throughout the country, and work for excellence for every child; to set high standards, and when we find centers of excellence, not [let] them go away, but to think of policy that will enable them to not only exist, not only survive, but to thrive. It’s in our nation’s interest. It’s an important summit for America.
Now, you can certainly criticize George W. Bush for being a little too hopeful, or perhaps working off a bad political translation: Believing freedom is written on every man’s heart and thus we can somehow bring sharia-free democracy to the Muslim world. You can believe that along the way he’s been patronizingly insulting when talking about those who want to enforce our nation’s immigration law. But if you’ve listened to him in the last week, you’ve heard a man who simply believes in the promise of America, a promise that would not be possible without a higher calling than politics. He believes we’re a City on the Hill, the last best hope, and that morning in America is right around the corner thanks to the work and sacrifices of many patriotic Americans.
At the welcoming ceremony for Benedict on the White House lawn last Wednesday, I stood a few feet away as the pope looked on at attention, lighting up as he realized that the president gets it: There is right and wrong and it’s not outside the realm of appropriateness for a political leader — especially the leader of the free world — to say so. Hope may be a papal encyclical (this one has one — Spe Salvi), but it’s not a presidential platform. That said, an embrace of a well-rooted hope inspires people.
On his radio show the other day, also homing in on the pope’s visit to the White House, and echoing comments he made in response to Mitt Romney’s speech on religious liberty in America late last year, on “Earth Day” this week, radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh gave some free advice to those running for president:
The whole focus for me [is] “I don’t hear anybody talking about American exceptionalism.” Not one of our presidential candidates is talking about the greatness of this country, just the exact opposite. That’s not good. If somebody could break out of the pack talking about how great this country is because of how great the people who work and live here make it, that guy could run a landslide victory. It’s simple. It’s right there. It’s in the playbook. It’s in the blueprints. We end up, on our side, so often accepting the doom-and-gloom pessimistic premises of the left, and that’s why this all gets frustrating.
You can’t give a candidate talking points on this, he’s got to feel that exceptionalism in his bones. When Mitt Romney spoke in College Station, he said:
The consequence of our common humanity is our responsibility to one another, to our fellow Americans foremost, but also to every child of God. It is an obligation which is fulfilled by Americans every day, here and across the globe, without regard to creed or race or nationality.
Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government. No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty. The lives of hundreds of thousands of America’s sons and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve freedom, for us and for freedom loving people throughout the world. America took nothing from that Century’s terrible wars — no land from Germany or Japan or Korea; no treasure; no oath of fealty. America’s resolve in the defense of liberty has been tested time and again. It has not been found wanting, nor must it ever be. America must never falter in holding high the banner of freedom.
There’s something different about that. If you believe it, you can’t have just been proud of America for the first time in your life in the last year. If you believe that, you simply cannot expose your children to “God damn America.” If you believe that, you can inspire people because you have a source of inspiration much more compelling than a poll or approval (or disapproval!) rating. It’s the kind of inspiration that inspires a man who’s still wealthy enough to be doing anything he wants, to put his plans on hold and pick up and campaign for you, the presumptive Republican nominee, even if you lied about him along the primary way.
On his show last Friday, Limbaugh told President Bush, who called in on “open-line Friday”:
I just wanted to thank you for it, because it was so uplifting, it was so timely. The facial expressions on both you and the pope during The Battle Hymn of the Republic were just priceless.
If it’s possible to transfer that into daily political leadership, it’s a winner — for an election and for America’s future (never mind for the eternal souls of American men and women). Picture it: South Lawn of the White House. Some 13,000 people. The pope. The president. U.S. Army Chorus singing. Much of the 13,000 singing. Presidential foot tapping. Papal singing.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free;
While God is marching on.
At that same ceremony, Pope Benedict cited an American political leader’s speech — one Romney cited, one many faithful American leaders have cited before, and one that (God willing) future leaders will continue to heed: Washington’s Farewell Address. In it, the original George W. said:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness — these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.
Helps put the likes of the Pennsylvania primary and upcoming contest in perspective. Let us pray for the candidates, too.