OK, bear wth me while I try to wrap Lent, Pope Francis and the Apostle Luke in with road rage, U.S. Rep. Steve King and his controversial tweet on immigrant children.
All in one confused little blog essay.
If time allows, I might also get to a fictional Lyman County farmer and the Posse Comitatus Act.
So hang on. Here we go:
On this date four years ago in Rome, the 2013 Papal Council elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentinian Jesuit, to be the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
And no pope in my lifetime has promoted a message of charity and mercy, grace and redemption as humbly and consistently as Pope Francis.
So the core of today’s Gospel reading from Luke was the perfect way to celebrate the four-year anniversary of the pontiff's election:
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
"Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
It was a great scriptural launch pad for a brief-and-graceful homily by Father Ed Witt, a Jesuit at St. Isaac Jogues Catholic Church in North Rapid. He focused on working to avoid passing judgment on others, which is among the most-often-acknowledged sins in Father Witt’s confessional — and probably others.
And it is the one he urged us, today, to concentrate on in our Lenten sacrifices.
“Let’s work to give up judging others for lent,” he said, with a smile that seemed to say “I know; tough duty.”
At that, I had to smile thinking that one of us at least wasn't likely to give up judging for Lent. South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Janine Kern was sitting a few rows behind me. I presume she has dispensation to pass a little judgment that the rest of us aren't allowed.
I do it anyway, however, haphazardly judging others, without the benefit of a legal title. I judge the way they drive, the way they dress, the way they talk, the way they behave. The way they judge others.
Inspired by the homily, I left Mass with a firm resolve to stop judging, knowing I’d be fortunate just to cut back a little. To start. Just to start. And work on it from there.
But I knew I’d have challenges. So I tried to prepare myself to be calm and forgiving as I slid behind the wheel of my pickup out in the Isaac Jogue’s parking lot. And I did pretty well for about three blocks, when I ended up behind some idiot in a green SUV who was completely clueless on how to enter the flow of traffic on Haines.
“Are you serious? Come on, go!” I growled. “If you can’t judge traffic speed any better than that, you probably shouldn’t be driving!”
So, OK, I had an imperfect beginning. But I sucked it up and did a persective reset, getting out on I-90, taking the exit at I-190 and keeping it cool all the way back to West Boulevard. There I got stacked up at Omaha behind a bunch of morons who couldn’t seem to figure out that green means you can actually go.
“It’s green! Go!”
But at least this time, the scream was in my head. I think.
But, yeah, OK. Strike two. I knew this wouldn’t be easy. But from Omaha to our place on St. Cloud, the inside of my pickup was a judge-free zone, even though a sensitive guy might have complained about the number of California roll-throughs going on at the stop signs.
It’s a neighborhood full of kids, after all. "What are you, a surgeon on the way to perform an emergency appendectomy? Come on, slow down and stop at the stop sign!"
Geez, this is hard. Really hard.
Still, my optimism was restored when I got home and popped the top on a chilled Clausthaler and started to saute some fresh red chard and mushrooms, sweet pepper and broccoli to go with a scoop of cottage cheese and a tasty little whole-wheat English muffin filled with no-sodium-nitrate honey ham.
I’m always in a tolerant mood while I’m cooking lunch. Or eating it.
But I committed a tactical error by flipping on the TV in the kitchen and turning it to CNN, where the conversation was about an offensive tweet that, oddly enough, wasn’t sent by President Donald Trump.
It was actually by U.S. Rep. Steve King, who represents Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. King, who was once accused by former House Speaker John Boehner of making “ignorant” and “hateful” comments, opposes affirmative action, supports racial profiling by police, dismisses climate change concerns and used to, and perhaps still does, display a Confederate flag in his office.
I haven't had a chance to ask him how old he thinks the earth is. But I’ll let you know when I know.
If I've passed judgment on King for any of that stuff so far, or if Boehner did (he’s a Catholic, too), bless us father, for we have sinned. And probably will again.
But I was still trying to focus on my food and not on King until I actually saw the exact nature of the tweet, which apparently was intended to express support for far-right Dutch politician Bert Gerfel.
Wait, no, Bert Gerfel is a fictitious Lyman County farmer who used to make irate phone calls to some of my friends about matters of politics, romance, animal husbandry and the need in South Dakota's university system for doctoral coursework on the Posse Comitatus Act and its grounding in the Old Testament. I almost forgot about Bert.
The Dutch politician representing the Party for Freedom is actually named Gert Wilders. And Gert can get even wilder than King, including calling for a ban on the Koran in the Netherlands and blockade on Muslim immigrants.
He is also, I believe, the international president and spiritual advisor of the Donald Trump Fan Club. At least, that’s what I heard. Somewhere. From some credible source not the mainstream media.
So Wilders is a guy Steve King would probably tend to like, which was reflected in this tweet by the congressman from next door in corn country:
“Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
I read that over a couple times and decided I need some ibuprofen, and maybe a nap. But the tweet prompted past Democratic National Committee Chairman and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean to make a Twittery response: “King is a total ignoramus and no one takes him seriously.”
I think Father Witt would consider that making a judgment, although he might offer some flexibility if truth is a defense...
I'll ask for a ruling after Mass today.
Meanwhile, I prefer the tweet in response to King from conservative commentator and Weekly Standard founder William Kristol:
“Is it worth making the obvious point that what American history has been about is ‘restoring’ ourselves with ‘somebody else’s babies?’”
To answer Kristol’s rhetorical question, yes. I think it is very much worth making that point. And the beautiful thing is, the point is made without passing judgment on or condemning King.
Which the congressman pretty much did himself, with his own tweet.
And there I go again, headed back to confession.