THE BLOG
09/25/2015 09:54 pm ET Updated Sep 25, 2016

The Pope's Address to Congress in a Single Sentence

"Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves."

The Pope has said a great deal since he arrived in the U.S. Still, in this one, simple sentence before Congress, he brought together concepts of love, solidarity, right relationships, human dignity and even a "preferential option for the poor." These concepts are fundamental to Catholic Social Teaching, and offer a map for addressing challenges today that is useful for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Practically speaking, how does a desire to "seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves" play out in the realm of U.S. public policy? Here's a glimpse of the implications for three issues he has addressed -- climate change, the economy, and immigration.

The Pope was clear on climate change in his teaching letter on the subject back in June, called Laudato Si. At 90-plus pages, however, it covers a lot of ground. In essence, the Pope makes the case that God made humanity and God made nature, with nature as a sacred tool for fulfilling one's full human potential. "The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all," he wrote.

In the American context, seeking for others the same possibilities we seek for ourselves means scaling back on the U.S.'s disproportionate use of non-renewable resources, and developing an approach to profitability that considers sustainability as non-negotiable. We have an obligation to ensure that each and every human, today and tomorrow, can experience the gifts of the land, turn those gifts into sustainable lives for their families, and use nature's resources to express their own potential. When we over-use, under-renew, and fail to pay the full social costs on non-renewable consumption, we fail.

Regarding the economy, the Pope has been firm and consistent in his critique of capitalism. We in the U.S. are among the world's primary exporters of market values. A careful read of the Pope's speeches and writings reveals a belief in the sacred nature of work - that humans must work, and that our productivity is core to our spirituality. One could hear that in the Pope's statement, when he said

I would like to take this opportunity to dialog with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day's work... These are men and women who... in their own quiet way sustain the life of society.

Wanting for others what we want for ourselves means wanting living wages for everyone who works, the opportunity to be productive and to contribute to society, and respect for the fruits of our labor. There are implications in that statement for choices of automation over human labor, profitability for shareholders and owners over livability for workers, and, in the U.S., access to dignified work, whether at the white-collar, "knowledge worker" level, or the blue-collar, service level.

Lastly, the Pope has addressed immigrants and refugees in all of his major speeches since landing on American soil. What do we do differently in our immigration policy if we seek for others the same possibilities we seek for ourselves? First and foremost, we must act compassionately. How are illegal immigrants treated on our borders? They often are met with indifference or even hostility, rather than recognized for the gifts that they may bring with them, to paraphrase what the Pope said to the Bishops at St. Matthew's Cathedral.

They are detained in buildings that look like prisons. They are vilified in our political debates, and marginalized and victimized by our legal system. We are and should be attempting to have a legitimate conversation about how to maintain stability in the U.S. in the face of large flows of immigrants and refugees. The Golden Rule can and should inform that conversation, however, and, in the meantime, it absolutely should inform the way we treat those who seek better opportunities for their children every day. After all, as the Pope noted, "Is this not what we want for our own children?"

There's a remarkable grace and elegance to summarizing a complete moral body of work in a single sentence. The Pope has said so much since arriving the U.S., and he will say more. All we need to understand to be better to each other, however, and better as a country, is summarized in that one simple line. Let us seek for others the same possibilities we seek for ourselves.