Pope Francis and Politicians

Every year at the beginning of session, I find a note on my desk on the House floor from someone I don’t know. “I am (name)” it says, “I will pray for you every day.”

I keep these notes and treasure them. When the votes get tough and the debate gets nasty, I pull them out of my desk drawer and look at them.

I went through a bad patch in my work as a legislator a few years back in which I felt isolated and alone, at odds with the other Democrats. It was a chore just to make myself get in the car and drive to work.

I had a thing I went through while I was driving to work. I put aside all my thoughts of my life outside that capitol building. I shut down my softer emotions and focused on the job ahead of me that day. When I stepped out of my car in the parking lot, I was Representative Hamilton, or more exactly, I was District 89 and its people.

I left the rest of me to pick up later on the drive home.

All during this time, people prayed for me. Many of them I don’t know, since it was a sort of informal prayer chain. But I made speeches from time to time and often a woman — it was almost always a woman — would come up to me afterwards and said, “I heard about you, and I want you to know that I pray for you.”

I believe I felt their prayers. I know absolutely that there were times when I sent a text to one of my prayer warriors and asked for prayers and then felt peace come over me like a calming hand not long afterwards.

Prayer is a force. It plugs us into the engine that drives the universe. The help it gives extends far beyond what the person who prays sees.

Pope Francis gave a homily at morning mass yesterday that every elected official should hear. He described exactly what servant leadership is for a politician. It is not about the elected official at all. It is about the people they serve. It is about trusting God enough to jump off those political cliffs and cast the hard votes that get you clawed up and attacked simply because you know that this is what the Gospels require of you.

Politics is a lion’s den of sorts, and politicians who follow Christ have to go into it with the spirit of Daniel. They need the courage of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego before the fiery furnace when they said “Our God will deliver us, and even if He does not deliver us, we still will not bow down to false gods.”

This takes, not ego, but humility. It is a humbling thing to love someone else who does not truly love you back to the point of true service to them. It is a humility of the soul to trust God rather than yourself and do what everyone, including you, knows is the stupid thing in order to follow Him.

The smart thing for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would have been to bow down to those idols with their fingers crossed and then ask for God’s forgiveness later. After all, they might have told themselves, being bound and tossed into a fiery furnace would just make us burnt ash, and we would be of no use to God like that. It is better that we live to serve Him another day.

But if they had made this obvious and smart compromise, they would have weakened the buckling faith of all God’s followers, everywhere. By taking the stand they did, they became a source of hope and strength.

I am sure they had no thoughts of all this at the time. I imagine that for them it was a moment of deepest humility. They laid their lives before God, “even if He does not save us,” and they took their chances.

That is what everyone who follows Christ in this life must do. It is required of elected officials that they do it over and over in a public arena where the arrows of hatred hit them from every direction.

They need our prayers. And we need to pray for them.

It is impossible to pray for someone diligently and continuously without at some level taking on their pain. It isn’t something you try to do or even want. It is a natural outcome of the grace of prayer. Praying for someone stills the demons that attack your own soul. You may not approve of the wrongs the people you pray for do, but you will not be able to hate them. Prayer shifts the whole scenario, turns the wheel, so that it is no longer about you vs this other person. It is about doing God’s will.

Praying for someone is a mercy, and like all mercy, it is, as Shakespeare said, twice blessed. It blesses the one who is prayed for, and perhaps even more profoundly, it blesses the one who prays.

Pray for our elected officials, including and most especially the ones that make you the maddest. Pray and don’t stop praying. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this life, it is that you will never come to the end of the surprises about what God can do with a human soul.

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