When Pope Francis spoke to Congress, he did so in his dual roles as a foreign head of state and as a spiritual leader. It would have been easy for him to encounter the same skepticism that Bibi Netanyahu did during his own address — as someone foreign, whose goals weren’t necessarily aligned with our own, who was getting a high profile chance to lobby our government. Especially with a bill to defund Planned Parenthood pending in Congress, it wasn’t clear if Pope Francis would wind up making a list of legislative demands.
Instead, Francis acknowledged himself as an outsider, and took the opportunity to tell us how he understood our country through the lives of four of our citizens: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.
Instead of offering a lecture, he presented our own history to us as a gift, an invitation to see ourselves through his eyes and to join in his awe and delight in what our people have been and what each of us could be. As he narrated the lives of these four extraordinary people, he showed how each reflected the Gospel story of love of neighbor and self-gift.
His way of reinterpreting our stories reminded me of the way he had structured his encyclical Laudato Si. The Pope addressed the encyclical to “every person living on this planet” rather than only the members of the Church (as Evangelii Gaudium had been addressed). He spoke about the common impulse to care for the vulnerable — the poor and the natural world, but, as the encyclical went on, he made it clear that we could only truly be stewards by uniting ourself with Christ. This was an environmental tract that rated Adoration and discernment as highly as multinational pacts on pollution.
The pope has been evangelizing by looking at what we love and by showing us how, ultimately, that love fits into the story of God’s love for us, and our chance to accept and return His care.
Leah Libresco is a news writer at FiveThirtyEight, a blogger at Patheos, and a contributor to NET TV’s papal coverage.