Infinite Thoughts

There's No Alternative to Dialogue

The word dialogue has become a bad word, a signal of being a liberal.

It is the only way out of a difficult moment. There's no alternative to dialogue. The alternative is to circle the wagons and wait for the end of the world.

These four sentences hit me deeply as I read them on my phone this morning. They were spoken by Pope Francis. The first he shared before he became Pope. The next three short, declarative sentences, he uttered in the least-publicized of his speeches in the United States this week. These he impressed upon his bishops, when he spoke to them at the Cathedral at St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C.

Let me begin by saying that I have not been a church-going gal in many years. I was baptized Catholic and raised Catholic. When I was a child, my dad's retail career moved us from New Jersey to Florida, then to Illinois and Ohio to New England. I attended six schools in 12 years. In some of those places, I went to a Catholic school. In others I attended public schools. The combination of this religious and public education, culminating in four years of Catholic High School (which I still call, with loving sarcasm, "the angel factory") taught me that religion doesn't really matter as much as people being good people.

I was married in a Catholic church in Framingham, Massachusetts, mostly to honor my parents' wishes. When my first daughter was born, my husband (who is not Catholic) and I decided to have her baptized in a Catholic church where we lived in Milford, Massachusetts. In my world, it seemed like the thing to do when you have a child. After an odd altercation, which felt far less than holy and loving having to do with our little girl's Catholic religion classes when she was six years old, we got off the moving sidewalk of Catholicism. I haven't considered myself a Catholic in years, though I will always somehow belong to that club of adults who can connect at a cocktail party on their years of nuns in the classroom and folk masses in the chapel.

So, it was against this backdrop that I read the headlines of the Pope coming to the U.S. for his first visit this week. Over the past year or two, I've heard a few things about him that I liked. He seemed like a kind, inclusive world leader. He seemed to be using his "bully pulpit" for good, which I admired from a distance.

Though I never expected it, personal history, curiosity or hope drew me in this week. I heard one Francis radio sound bite while driving in the car. Sounded like a great thought. Then I heard another, as I flipped by the news on TV while looking for the premiere of the new Muppet Show, which I hoped would offer good humor and a reason to feel like the world was a kind place. The news snippit caused me to pause. Francis was garnering much bigger crowds than the parade of presidential candidates. This was an interesting sign. I became intrigued. I stopped for longer on CNN. I listened to SiriusXM radio to grab a piece of coverage while driving to the grocery store.

This was not the Pope I expected. Somehow, I thought he was luring me in and I was waiting for the sucker punch. It never came.

This morning, as I perused my phone to see if I had an email or a Facebook message from my children or friends, I bumped up against a few posts that beckoned me to read the Pope's entire speech to Congress. I'd heard the highlights. Did I really need to read this entire presentation in six point type? But, I challenged myself. I thought, "You often criticize sound bites and say that people live life out of context. Here's the whole speech; read it."

So I did. I read every word of Pope Francis' speech to the joint houses of the United States Congress. The cynical side of me (perhaps borne of my being a public relations person for 30 years) mentally responded with, "What a masterful piece of writing." Yet I was drawn to go back and read several of the paragraphs again. He touched me deeply. This was more than good PR.

What was different here? This human being, given the opportunity to espouse his philosophy (which many are taught and truly believe comes straight from the mouth of God, once he is ordained as Pope) is truly trying to promote love and kindness. He is not posturing to show superiority. He is not trying to convince the world that only he knows something to which the rest of us are not privy. He is offering some honest thoughts, thoughts that he believes will make the world a better place. He is truly leading by example. How unique for a person in a position of such power to offer a simple message of kindness. I had heard the day he took over as Pope that he refused the big residence in favor of a much more humble apartment. He even chose to wear his usual black shoes instead of the iconic red loafers, which set the Pope apart from all other Catholic leadership. Here in the U.S., he chose to be transported in a small Fiat, dwarfed by the large U.S. security vehicles around him. Actions speak louder than words...and now as I read every one of his words, I was amazed at how humble, yet powerful, they were.

I finished the entire text of the speech and was prompted (in that way that Facebook, Amazon and other great online marketers offer) to read other Pope Francis stories from this week. I went to a piece by the National Catholic Review, as surely I would read something here that would bring me out of my Francis stupor. Here I would find the words he shared with "his fellow bishops" in DC this week. Surely, there would be some inside scoop from the pontiff that Catholics would clutch onto that said, "Hey guys, I mean all that warm and fuzzy stuff I've been sharing with the masses, but we all know we're right and you're doing a great job on teaching anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, and Catholics do have the real inside track to heaven." I knew this is where I would be disappointed.

As I braced myself, I read the National Catholic Review article. Shock and awe ensued. Francis spoke to the bishops just like he spoke to the senators and reps earlier that day...and like he spoke to the masses in New York City the next. He spoke the words I shared at the top of this post. He told his bishops that there is nothing that replaces dialogue. He told them, in his stunningly non-judgmental language, that we have to keep working together and talking about how to save ourselves and the world. He said that the bishops and priests and parishioners and non-believers all needed to treat one another as they would want to be treated themselves. He reminded them all of the golden rule.

What a concept. I love this guy. His agenda is love and peace and kindness. What world leader says these things?

I agree completely. Dialogue is key. It promotes strong children and happy families and world peace. We should definitely talk about all of this more often and in public.

I haven't written a post on in quite awhile. This man inspired me. I was reminded that when I discovered The Infinity Angel on the beach in Ogunquit more than a decade ago, the message I felt very strongly was, "Everything you need is already here."

At that time, Pope Francis was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a new Catholic Cardinal in Argentina. In the next 12 years, he would work and teach and talk and eat with the poor. And then, seemingly from nowhere, he would become the global leader of the Catholic Church. There are powerful good forces working in the world. Forces that we don't immediately see.

Somehow the media and many disturbed people have made fear and destruction rule the front pages and TV and radio sound bites. Yet, one kind voice can still cut through with hope and civility and peace. And people are eager for that message. That's where I want to live. That's what I want to hear. That's who I want to be.

Thank you, Pope Francis, for reminding me that dialogue is the key and, indeed, everything I need is already here.

Be inspired and enjoy the beauty of autumn!

Kelly McCoy