In policy-driven Washington D.C., you could pick Pope Francis out of a crowd with your eyes closed. No one needs to see his white vestments to know which one he is. All you have to do is listen to the way he speaks about pastoral and political issues.
Pope Francis often speaks in an eschatological vein, interpreting our problems in the present as a lens for understanding who God is and who we are called to be. When he explained his opposition to the death penalty to Congress, he didn’t cite facts and figures on the usefulness of it as a deterrence, and he didn’t speak simply about whether or not the state has the right to take the lives of its citizens.
Instead, he talked about who the condemned were, and what they were made for, saying that “A just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.” Pope Francis grounded his discussion of the death penalty in the truth that all of us are made for hope and rehabilitation.
Instead of talking about what would serve the interests of the state, or what it is or is not allowed to do, Pope Francis looked past the question to tell us who we all are, and what we are made for. By speaking about the dignity of prisoners, he reminded those in the crowd of their own dignity and the God that endowed them with it.
In this way, every problem that the pope discussed became a way to talk about the largest problem — What are we created for? — and to recommit to life in Christ as the answer.
Leah Libresco is a news writer at FiveThirtyEight, a blogger at Patheos, and a contributor to NET TV’s papal coverage.