The Two Most Important Lessons Pope Francis Can Teach the U.S.

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on the Pope in America: Implications, Collaborations, Challenges. Read other perspectives here.

For a country divided along many lines, Pope Francis's first-ever visit to the United States offers each of us a blueprint for hope, no matter who we are or where we are amidst the uniquely diverse American tapestry.

In anticipation of the "Holy Year of Mercy" starting December 8, the pontiff brings to the U.S. the promise of renewal. To begin with, he embodies the following two powerful lessons for living life to the fullest and for rejuvenating the tarnished mantle of "one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Embracing Authentic Leadership in Daily Life

Good to Great author Jim Collins describes a topnotch, Level 5 leader as "an individual who blends extreme personal humility with intense personal will." Collins could easily post a picture of Pope Francis next to this description to drive home the point.

As leader of the world's one billion Catholics, Pope Francis is not only a beloved shepherd to his flock of the faithful, but he exemplifies how each one of us — regardless of our beliefs — can lead with genuine integrity and compassion every day. His Holiness shows how the best way to navigate a modern world is to lead by example, not via lofty pontification.

This pope's primary pulpit is his day-to-day behavior: Declining the luxury of the traditional papal apartment for a more understated guesthouse on Vatican grounds; wearing simpler vestments than his predecessors; carrying his own briefcase; washing the feet of prison inmates; slipping out at night to visit the poor; freely exchanging hugs and posing for selfies with fans; and going to pick up his own eyeglasses.

Within these simple acts are reflections of our own potential, the angels of our better nature. We need only to choose this humble path less traveled in today's ego-charged, chaotic world.

With Pope Francis as mentor, from Wall Street to Main Street USA, we can become authentic leaders within our daily lives by approaching employees, neighbors, and strangers alike with respect and a helping hand. By transforming our offices and homes from dens of materialism into comfort zones that inspire the mind and feed the soul.

And, by harnessing the joy that comes from discovering and utilizing the innate gifts with which we've been blessed, we can each do our part to move our country and the world ahead in a positive direction for everyone.

Leaning Into a More Open Mind

"Who am I to judge?"

With this simple question, Pope Francis handed each one of us the key to the next great American Revolution.

While he was specifically referencing the long-held Catholic slant against homosexuality, this successor to Saint Peter was also speaking a much more profound and universal truth to power. This same question surely crossed Jesus' own lips as he ministered to lepers, prostitutes, and the possessed. How often in our arrogance we forget it was these types — the lowest of the low — with whom our Savior chose to surround himself. Whether he approved or disapproved, the Lord's nature was to lean in and extend his hand, not to recoil.

We might then take Pope Francis's question, and Jesus' own example, to heart: Who am I to judge . . . a transgendered person, or a county clerk denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or an illegal immigrant, or a big-game trophy hunter? Who am I to judge a divorced couple, a woman seeking an abortion, a drug addict, or anyone anywhere at any time whose opinion differs from mine?

And yet, today in the U.S. nothing slams the door of our minds shut faster than being confronted with an opposing opinion. Even though we are only into the early throes of the 2016 presidential campaign, we are once more perpetuating ourselves as a combative nation of closed minds. The campaign trail is a macrocosm of our own lives and ideologies. The political stage has turned into a boxing ring, with an infectious trickle-down effect. Politicians and pundits have become today's newest televangelists, turning partisanship into a blood sport. At stake: ownership of the American Dream.

In a recent Roll Call article, journalist Kate Ackley Zeller described how advocates from across the political spectrum — fronting both sides of such issues as reproductive rights, immigration, and climate change — are already planning to use Pope Francis's visit to advance their agendas, ultimately delivering a smack down on any opposing views: "No matter the steep legislative odds that lobbyists and activists might face, they say the pope has the potential power to catapult their priorities to the top of the agenda in Washington."

9/16/2015 4:00:00 AM
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