Every Friday my high school English teacher tested the class on a list of vocabulary words. Lately one of those words has been swirling around in my mind. Solipsistic: being self-centered; thinking our own experience is the only reality.
Until this past week the 2016 campaign—who’s ahead, who’s lagging, who made some ridiculous statement—had lured many of us into thinking American politics, “our own experiences,” defined reality. This belief both entertained us and fueled our animosities. It led us to ignore the rest of the world—except those we fear.
Then Pope Francis arrived and called us out of our solipsistic thinking.
Not by scolding us or denouncing our sinfulness. He did not preach against a self-centeredness that builds a wall along our southern border, or cuts funds to our children’s education. He did not chastise us for denying dignity to those imprisoned or the homeless. Instead he reminded us of our heritage. Before Congress he cited four individuals who exemplify the best in our character: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. Many of us listened and said, “Ah, yes, we ARE people of compassion, courage, hope, and spirituality. People who value all human life and work on behalf of others.”
During the interfaith prayer service at Ground Zero, Muslim and Jew recited a litany of peace. A stage full of women and men whose lives are grounded in different religions prayed to the One who guides them. Francis, by his presence, called us all to open our minds to others’ faith traditions.
Throughout his homilies the Pope reminded us that every refugee has a human face, a personal story. Every individual who lost his or her life because of the attack on 9/11 had a human face, a personal story. Every person trying to survive homelessness has a human face, a personal story. Every woman and man in prison has a human face, a personal story.
Solipsistic: being self-centered; thinking our own experience is the only reality.
Francis came to us not as a man of power wanting to convince us that his reality is the correct one. He came not as a saint, but as a servant. Not as a solipsist, but as one who lives for the world. He reminds us of compassion and generosity, virtues that are part of every culture and religion when practiced with humility.