There’s something about politics and maybe the Donald J. Trump administration in a particular way that seems a constant public-service announcement about original sin. Sometimes even when there’s good, it’s not entirely right. I thought of that not for the first time as I watched the president invite the Little Sisters of the Poor up to his Rose Garden podium on the annual National Day of Prayer to be applauded. It was a perplexing and frustrating day as most days when one pays a moment’s notice to politics is.
But I’ll give him credit for this: Unlike others, he did not pretend that the Little Sisters religious-liberty “ordeal” unnecessarily prompted by the Obama administration was yet over with the stroke of his pen. He indicated that it may soon be. In truth his executive order didn’t change anything for them though it and his words at the White House on religious liberty were a change of tone for the executive; in the previous administration, the president and his cabinet saw religious freedom as a narrowing thing, something to be curtailed if the believers were deemed archaic or worse in some of their matters of faith and tradition.
The previous administration’s attitude went almost entirely unnoticed by the media for years. The bewildering sight an administration telling the Little Sisters who have dedicated their lives to God and the service of Him in the elderly poor — among our most forgotten and discarded — to be in the business of providing contraception and abortion-drugs to their staff, went unnoticed for many Americans.
On social media, I’ve been told to drop my obsession with the likes of the Little Sisters. In truth, focusing on them could mean the renewal of our lives and our culture and our politics. They are women who know great love is in sacrifice and making sure that every person knows he is loved. Many you and I may encounter today have no idea they are — and that void is inhumane and affects so much of the inhumanity in our midst. Individuals and communities who insist on making sure people know in the most loving ways make all the difference.
On his recent visit to Egypt, Pope Francis said: “The greatness of any nation is revealed in its effective care of society’s most vulnerable members — women, children, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, and minorities — lest any person or social group be excluded or marginalized.” And he made clear that religion is never about hatred and violence — that is a perversion and blasphemy.
At a time when the easy thing to do is equate organized religion with violence and evil — the things which are so repulsive to God and His Word — because of so much scandal and pain in the world, the likes of the Little Sisters of the Poor stand as a bright counter example, a beacon of love in the midst of horror and anguish.
The Little Sisters are the peacemakers, and by celebrating them, we celebrate the kind of love we ourselves want, and for those we most love.
Pope Francis also said in the same address to government officials and diplomats in Cairo that “History . . . honors men and women of peace, who courageously and non-violently strive to build a better world: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9).”
The Little Sisters are the peacemakers, and by celebrating them, we celebrate the kind of love we ourselves want, and for those we most love. Can we desire that for our enemies, too? For those we never give thought to? That’s what makes the difference in revolutionizing the way we life and act and show ourselves to the world. The Little Sisters don’t ask you to do what they do or believe what they believe, but when you see the radiant light radiating from their hearts and deeds, you want what they have. It’s something other than the anger in the air. It’s nothing like manipulations of religion. So I’m grateful the president called them up to the podium in the Rose Garden. Now, I pray, his administration actually restores freedom from unnecessary regulation for them and so many. And even more so: That we begin to celebrate and participate this kind of love that restores not only human hearts and souls but the health of a people.
It is said that God works with all things — even bewilderingly unnecessary legal fights. So thank you, Barack Obama. And thank you, Donald Trump. You both wound up getting us thinking about the Little Sisters. And that makes us better especially as things aren’t quite right.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review. Sign up for her weekly NRI newsletter here.