In the last week or so on the 17th of September Pope Francis met with our Irish president Michael D Higgins. They formally exchanged some gifts and greeted one another. Pope Francis honored him as any Patriarch or Pope would a head of state.
However, in the course of the discussion here is what Pope Francis said:
Today I did not just meet a man, a President, I met a wise man of today. I thank God that Ireland has such a wise man as its head [of State].”Pope Francis to Michael D Higgins
A lot of Catholics are upset about it and it’s a tough one to defend, I must admit. All Christian leaders know their Bible. There is a part where Saint Peter exhorts us to “honor the emperor” in his letter. Basically we should honor the head of state even when he is corrupt and quite hostile towards religion. They say you get more with honey outstretched on a stick than you do some Cactus.
For those of you who don’t know him, Michael D Higgins signed into law abortion, same sex marriage and supported getting rid of Irelands old law on closure of Pubs on good Friday. There’s a picture of him looking like a liberal hippy from that bygone era of artistic expression. He’s undoubtedly and unquestionably very liberal.
Therefore calling him “wise” and actually thanking God that Ireland has such a wise leader as its head of state is not going to go down well for some Christians. It’s especially put a bad taste in the mouth of all the Catholics who fought so hard against this man and his cohort of anti-Catholic politicians who have done nothing but strip Ireland of its Catholic heritage and culture. It has not just angered Catholics but the Orthodox and Protestants Call Ireland home.
I understand all of this. It’s hard for any Church leader let alone the Pope having to daily shake the hands of political leaders who hate Catholicism. It is important we meet with them for that is the Christian response. Snubbing leaders in this way because their goals don’t align with yours is a lot worse for the Christians globally. The diplomacy sickens those of us who wish we could revisit the old days of simply excommunicating baptized leaders who behave in this way.
However, the modes of communication with a secular world bent on destroying Christianity has changed. The modes of communication even between political leaders has changed. It’s all smiles and praises for one another while something completely different is being done and said in the background. I have a man in my life who praises me a lot. He used to be a Mayor and a politician. Because I’m uneducated (at least on paper) he thinks I’m an absolute idiot and cannot see through his praises of me.
He calls me “wise” and a “good person who would be great at any job he chooses to do” while secretly I know he has a strong dislike for me. He’ll never be frank with me because he has not been trained to deal with the world in that way. However, when he hangs up the phone on me I know he’s saying all sorts of bad things about me, if not to himself at least to those around him.
I am trained in psychology and body language. I am well read in interrogation and interviewing techniques and so it’s very hard to fool me. I can be fooled. . . I’m only human, but believe me it’s hard. I throw curveballs at him and when I contradict him, because I know he’s very narcissistic I pile pressure on him without him really knowing it. He begins to behave a certain way that gives the game away about how he’s really feeling through tone of voice, deliverance and I get all that from just listening to him on the phone.
Therefore I think we should take the politeness of what Pope Francis says here with a grain of salt. He’s acting in a fatherly sort of way and trying to “honor the emperor” in the best way he can. Would I have personally have chosen those words to describe an Irish President who has blood on his hands from signing in the abortion law? NO….WAY. John Paul II kissed the Koran because he wanted to be loving and respectful towards another religion. Would I have personally kissed the Koran? No, it’s not happening.
We really need to put it all into perspective though as those of us who are ignorant of how modern politics should work might miss the bigger picture. Modes of communication have greatly changed and the Church has instead viewed how snowflake this generation is and is trying to meet it halfway. However, such an approach does not come without problems.
On the one hand by saying this to the Irish president Pope Francis has honey on the stick and is offering it to those distant from the Church. He’s using these words to make conversion of a now secularized Ireland easier. He wants them to love the Church again.
On the other hand there’s an imbalance where he’s holding out a stick with a prickly cactus on it to conservatives. He may gain converts with one stick of honey, but risks losing those on the precipice of losing whatever faith they possess with a cactus on the other. It’s a very difficult thing to do which is to say strike a balance. How do you do it? It’s very difficult.
My conclusion is that Pope Francis chose these words out of his fatherly love for the President and Ireland. It was an act of humility and even the Fathers call on us to view everyone else as holier than ourselves and yes, that includes Presidents like Michael D Higgins. I agree, it’s hard to fathom calling a president who committed such an atrocity “wise”. But maybe by using the term “wise” the Pope is referencing the wisdom of the world and that which makes the president a greater leader of a country? Lots of presidents who lacked theological wisdom of the Spirit and were murderers were very wise in worldly matters. They made great economic leaders and led successful campaigns of war in defense of their countries.
I’m thinking of one of the most hated men in Ireland, “Oliver Cromwell”. He had been wise in political affairs and in war, but he did not possess true wisdom which is to say that of the Holy Spirit. With this in mind, and knowing how smart Pope Francis and our Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs are, we should reflect a little more on what is really behind their diplomatic conversations with world leaders.
Yeah, it’s a hard one to defend. . . but dig a little bit deeper into the dark psychology used by political leaders against one another and you may find the Pope is smarter than you think.