“Our Dream Soars Higher”: Pope Francis’s Call to Civic and Political Love

Centre for Christian Engagement

St. Mark’s College at the University of British Columbia

AUTHOR BIO Steven P. Millies is associate professor of public theology and director of The Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, IL His most recent book is Good Intentions: A History of Catholic Voters’ Road from Roe to Trump (Liturgical Press, 2018).

 We who are Roman Catholics know what it means to live in history. There are few subjects to which we have devoted more reflection in the last two thousand years. The earliest moments of the Church were preoccupied by the problem of history—and we should make no mistake, it was a problem. The early church, expecting Jesus’s swift and prompt return, did not quite know what to do with history. How should we live in time with the expectation that time is running out, and paradise waits just around the corner?

 The early Christians had to learn to let go of their expectation that history would come to a quick end. St. Augustine in the fifth century, more than anyone else, gave us the language with which to understand the now-not-yet quality of Christian life in the world: we are the City of God, a people on a pilgrimage in the world walking together in history. The city is both here and we are journeying toward it together. Yet the expectation of a release from history and all that life in this world’s imperfections imposes on us would dog our civilization for many more centuries after Christianity introduced the idea of an escape from history with the expectation of a Second Coming. This is the same expectation that tempted centuries of Christians to believe that they could master history by combining the Church with the power of the state. If only we invest a king with divine right, they thought, we will set the world straight. We will escape from our sinful and imperfect condition. And, of course, it was not so. Or, if only we craft our laws in conformity with the divine law, we will live in a kingdom of justice and peace. And, of course, it was not so. Or, if only we carry the Gospel to the edges of the Earth, converting and baptizing all the peoples we meet and making good Western Christians out of them, we will hasten the coming of the Reign of God. And, of course, it was not so. Our dreams of escaping history or speeding along the millennial pace of salvation history, in the end, are earthbound and fail because they are earthbound. They fail because, really, we expect to find our salvation here on Earth when we dream in this way.

 In a similar way, we can understand the misbegotten political dreams that have caused so much human suffering over the last few centuries also as imprudent, hubristic efforts to find a release from our human condition and to build a paradise here on Earth. This was the dream born from certain intellectual strands of the Reformation era and which gave rise to Enlightenment and German Idealism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the rationalist perfectionism of the revolutionary Jacobins and the Hegelian historicism that begets eventually the workers’ paradise of Marxist Leninism and the pure racial dreams of Hitler’s Germany, the whole ideological terror of the twentieth century because—didn’t you know?—we humans are history’s masters. We can bend history to suit our desires and remake our world according to our own designs. Or, so the dream of our mastery has told us again and again.

 I begin with these reflections on history and our dreams of mastery because they point us toward perhaps the most important fact we need to grasp here in 2019, amid a global political crisis whose only most visible manifestations are the vulgar brutality of the Duterte and Erdogan regimes in The Philippines and Turkey, or the integralist authoritarianism of Poland’s Law and Justice Party, or Hungary’s turn toward authoritarianism under the Orban government, or the malign influence of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, or the rise of nationalist parties in Western Europe and just south of us tonight in the United States. Those more visible dimensions of our global political crisis—for as present and pressing as they are—can tend to distract us from the uglier and harder truth of the matter, which is this: for a long time, we believed we were immune. We had the answers. It couldn’t happen to us. The old political problems all have been solved, and we have mastered history.

 The Berlin Wall came down thirty years ago this week. The victory celebrations began quickly. Three days after the Wall fell, the New York Times Foreign Affairs column predicted confidently that, “Autumn 1989 is only the beginning.”(1) On the opposite side of the same page, Flora Lewis enthused that, “The people have snatched their history away from the rulers.”(2) All of this came in the context of an article Francis Fukuyama had published earlier that year under the title, “The End of History?”. I should say for an audience that his title, in the summer of 1989, appeared with a question mark after it. By 1992, when Fukuyama had adapted the article into a bestselling book, the question mark had disappeared.

 What was Fukuyama’s argument? For this, if you will forgive me, I must talk about Hegel. But take comfort because you already are prepared to hear about him. Moments ago, when I talked about the ways that German Idealism and Marxist Leninism led to confident feelings we had mastered history, I was talking about Hegel. If you understand only one idea in Hegel’s thought (and, that would be plenty…), understand that Hegel believed history was a process by which freedom is realized in human consciousness. Hear some of the exuberant confidence of Hegel’s late-Enlightenment, nineteenth century circumstances in that idea. The shackles of the medieval world were being thrown off all over Europe in one liberating revolution after another, giving rise to a cheerful confidence much as our world felt thirty years ago when the Wall came down. The horizon of freedom seemed endless, and, the trajectory appeared to be one-way. Humanity followed a direction of progress through history toward the realization of our full potential in freedom. This Hegelian idea rested at the core of Marx’s revolutionary thought: industrial capitalism, much as medieval feudalism, sows the seeds of its own destruction, the Revolution brings about the Worker’s Paradise as an end of history where full human freedom becomes realized as much as Hegel saw that process at work in the liberating revolutions of his early nineteenth century. And, if all this sounds familiar, it should. It is, more or less, the Christian promise of salvation—except Hegel and Marx and all the others promised salvation in the world, in human freedom, in an earthly paradise. They are unwilling to wait for Jesus to return. We humans would take matters into our own hands. And this, in substance, was how Francis Fukuyama interpreted the end of the Cold War.

 This begins to set a context for how we can understand some of that post-Cold War enthusiasm about an end of history. In Fukuyama’s own words, “The last thing I want to be interpreted as saying is that our society is a utopia, or that there are no more problems. I simply don’t see any competitors to modern democracy,” he said.(3) And that, finally, is the proposition I want to examine as we begin to assess the crisis in which we find ourselves now thirty years later. The proposition is not that history has stopped and the problems are solved. There still are bad actors like Mohammad bin Salman and Kim Jong Un. But perhaps more important and a more immediate concern is that, clearly, even the world’s democratic states now are flirting with the sort of authoritarianism that Fukuyama had relegated to the past. It is as though we reached ‘the end of history,’ the earthly paradise where free, democratic states face no real competition any longer, and then we retreated from it. The proposition we need to re-examine is the one which says we ever should place so much confidence in ideas—be they political or theological—that reassure us that all of the hard work belongs in the past, the big questions are answered, we possess the solutions, and paradise lurks around the corner if we just follow the plan. What I want to examine from our vantage point today, in other words, is whether women and men living in our world are up to the challenge of governing ourselves with wisdom and prudence. Can we even say it with confidence any longer about Western Europe? The United States? The whole North Atlantic bloc that prevailed in the Cold War?

 Let us pause over those last questions for a moment to feel their full weight. The political crisis that has unfolded during the last three years since the Brexit vote, culminating in the illegal prorogation of Parliament, successfully demonstrated that many in Britain would sacrifice the constitution and the institutions of representative and participatory government in hope of achieving a desired outcome: they want nothing so much as for their side to prevail, and anything seems worth doing in order to achieve it. And even as the British judiciary intervened to set things more or less right, the fact remains that substantial numbers of Britons are more committed to interest and party than they are to the free institutions of government that have safeguarded public liberty for generations. In the U.S., the ongoing conversation of the Trump presidency concerns the durability of the political norms and conventions which are, candidly, under daily assault by the president of the United States and, even more precisely, by a major political party and a firm 38-or-so-percent of the voters who will support him no matter what—even if, as he famously suggested and his attorney argued recently in federal court, he were to shoot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue in broad daylight. Who have we become? Who are we any longer? And, what misbegotten political dream has brought us to this precipice?

 Amid all this, Canada has had federal elections this year. Rick Mercer wrote about it recently for the Washington Post under the headline, “Welcome to Canada’s Underwhelming Election,” and he quotes one unnamed observer who lamented, “who knew gray came in so many shades.”

 Well, maybe. The excitements that Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau offer us, perhaps we can say, do pale when we compare them to the more colorful figures now dominating the global conversation, whom I named earlier. But there are significant signs that the stirrings in Canadian politics are darker than they appear at a quick glance. You won’t need this visitor to tell you what polling disclosed about Canada last month: “the [election] results showed that both Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party and the Conservatives, which both once drew supporters from across the country, could no longer do so.” (4) 2019 has disclosed that the same polarizations of region, class, education-level, and religious participation that have divided nations around the world have begun now to show themselves here. No matter how gray and bloodless Trudeau and Scheer may appear to be, or how much Canadian politics may yet appear still to be immune to the primal forces now moving politics around the world, there are reasons to worry that things will not be so quiet for long.

 As the lone American in the room tonight—that is, if Andrew Scheer is not here—let me say that I recognize what is underway. The sorts of regional divisions you’ll find among the western provinces, the east, and the Québécois are natural. We expect this sort of thing in any nation large enough to span a continent. It is hard enough to get one family living in the same house to agree on a movie. To create one political culture in a continental state is a bit too much to hope for. We are only human beings. And, Canadians are as human as we are in the U.S. or in Europe, where regional differences always have existed. Those regional differences, of course, determine ideological differences. “It’s not that people move to Fort McMurray because they like the oil and gas industry and they believe that climate change is a hoax,” observed a political scientist from Wilfred Laurier University. “If you took the oil and gas industry and plunked it down in downtown Montreal, people there would support it.” (5) Well, I think that’s more or less true. People generally form their politics out of their own understanding of who they are. And, even once they do that, it is not a necessary corollary that forming our politics out of how we understand ourselves means that we need to begin to think of someone else as an enemy. Differences can mean that we merely disagree. There is no need for these sorts of differences, by themselves, to raise the stakes to the apocalyptic levels where we find so much political discourse. For a long time, we were able to have divisions without this newfound rancor. But more recently, we have been losing the capacity to do that in my country. And, in lots of other places. I think it is because those differences have been exploited. Our sense of our communities as places where we could find common ground together over our differences has been disrupted by people with other agendas, and who promise more than living together peacefully—they promise that one side can win history through politics.

 The 2000 U.S. presidential election found Al Gore and George W. Bush evenly matched, and the nation waited for six weeks after the election to learn who would win Florida’s twenty-five electoral votes and the presidency. As Bush strategist Karl Rove looked ahead to a re-election campaign in 2004, he knew that the parties would continue to be matched evenly and polling told him that Bush could not win by converting Democrats to Republican voters. Instead, he focused on a turnout strategy: Rove surmised that outraging Republican voters would assure that they turned out in greater numbers than Democrats, and Bush would win (which is what happened). The 2004 Bush campaign focused its attention on two issues with which Andrew Scheer’s engagement proved antagonizing in the federal elections: abortion and LGBT rights. The effect in 2004 was to arouse and enflame cultural differences that exist naturally in a large nation and fall along the lines of region, class, education-level, and religious participation. Karl Rove did this in order to win an election. Our American polarization did not begin with the 2004 Bush campaign, of course, and other things have happened since then that also have divided us. But I’d pause here just to observe that Andrew Scheer is a practicing Catholic (which created expectations among those inside and outside the Church about him), and that a critical part of Rove’s 2004 strategy was what he called “Catholic outreach.” Catholics played more than a small part in driving the American polarization, and I fear we can say they are playing a role here in Canada, as well.

 It is not only Catholics and Americans, of course. Boris Johnson fomented Brexit simply for personal ambition, and a Leave movement followed him because he exploited natural differences masterfully. A Remain movement that did not know it existed before it was challenged sprung up in opposition. Once that dynamic gets underway, very soon one finds that all which remains is that spirit of opposition. It becomes a habit quickly and, even today as it seems Britain is less likely than ever to leave the European Union actually, the spiraling feedback loop of social animus has become a natural part of the British landscape. Leavers and Remainers are locked in opposition, those positions map roughly on to party division, regional identity, class, and education-level. Whether Britain leaves or remains, this will not go away easily. We know it because we have seen it so many times.

 But I would return to the role that the Catholic Church plays in all of this, not just because of the substantial role the Church has played in my country’s polarization or because Andrew Scheer is a Catholic, but because it is the engagement we have with the world as Catholics, as Christians, as believers that brings us together here tonight.

 In 2004 I met a Jesuit priest from somewhere near here in western Canada (I don’t recall where), and he heard me give what I thought was a very smart presentation on the controversies surrounding John Kerry, a Catholic who had been nominated for president in that year by the U.S. Democratic Party. My Jesuit colleague told me my paper was very interesting but, he assured me, these sorts of arguments about Catholics in public life in the U.S. that I was describing were, his words, “only an American problem.” I remembered that when I saw the debate on the federal elections “from a Catholic Perspective” hosted by the Archdiocese of Toronto last month, where Cardinal Collins introduced representatives from five major parties and called on the audience to “listen, and reflect” on the positions of candidates with whom they disagreed so that they could make informed decisions as voters, weighing information and perspectives in good faith. The respectful, hospitable tone was striking. In fact, speaking as an American Catholic, it was extraordinary to see a cardinal sharing the stage with parties that support LGBT rights and abortion rights. That’s not the sort of thing that happens in the U.S., where our church leaders long ago abandoned a commitment to discourse and dialogue over disagreements. We have been turning ourselves in knots over Catholics in public life in the United States since Mario Cuomo in 1984 down until two Sundays ago when Joe Biden was refused Communion in South Carolina. It is a familiar American problem that places like Canada seem to have been able to avoid. I don’t mind saying that Canadian Catholics have shamed us for our lack of charity in political life and, really, I would say, our lack of prudence.

 And yet, in Ontario on October 19, when Andrew Scheer promised to hold a judicial inquiry and “get to the bottom” of what Justin Trudeau has done, you know what the crowd began to chant: “Lock him up!” Scheer seemed uncomfortable. Scheer seemed surprised. But Scheer, like Boris Johnson and like Donald Trump, has used rhetoric that has tapped into that political poison that has spread around the globe, which falls along lines of region, class, education-level, and religious participation to transform natural disagreements into apocalyptic confrontations. (6) And in places like Poland and the U.S., that poison has a Catholic flavor. It is a poison many Catholics have drunk, and have shared with the political community. It also is a poison that calls to mind the opposition Pope Francis has found outside and inside the Catholic community.

 I’ve drawn the title of my remarks this evening from the fourth chapter of Pope Francis’s 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, or, “The Joy of the Gospel.” Chapter four’s title in English is translated as, “The Social Dimension of Evangelization.” Yet, its substance is more alarming than that rather dull title: it is the portion of the document that aroused alarms in 2013 for its assault on our worldly assumptions about how things should be. It is why the Washington Post described the document as Francis’s “Stinging Critique of Capitalism.” It is why the BBC asked, “Is the Pope a Communist?” It is why Forbes, a financial magazine for corporate barons, dismissed Evangelii Gaudium as “Papal Bull.” In sum, Evangelii Gaudium is where Francis began to make enemies. It is where Francis wrote that, “We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a ‘dignified sustenance’ for all people.” He wrote, rather, “our dream soars higher”(192).

 Writing about how social concern is the center of Christian life, Francis begins by making clear “that the Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God. Nor should our loving response to God be seen simply as an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need, a kind of ‘charity à la carte,” or a series of acts aimed solely at easing our conscience”(180). Christian life demands something more radical. What that is must challenge everything comfortable that the world around us tells us every day. And, challenging that consensus, it also must up-end the too-casual way that we Christians too often think of ourselves as living in history. I say ‘radical’ very much on purpose, by the way: it is from the Latin word radix for “root.” Being radical means going to the roots of something. Francis wants to explode our comfortable social reality by going directly to the roots of our Christian faith, directly to the Gospel, and all of its terrifying challenges for how we otherwise might want to live.

 Forgive me as I read you one more passage from Evangelii Gaudium to illustrate what I’m talking about. This is a sentence with only eleven words, but we need to spend some time unpacking it. That sentence is: “True Christian hope, which seeks the eschatological kingdom, always generates history”(181). Our real purpose, the dream to which Francis calls us, is contained entirely in that sentence. But we have to unlock all of its meaning, first.

 Begin by going back to where I began, with the awkwardness of being a Christian in history. It is the source of so many of our problems today, and it has been the source of so many problems historically. Christianity dangled the idea of escaping from history in front of the human race two thousand years ago. It is what we mean by Jesus’s return, and a theological term for that is the eschaton. “True Christian hope, which seeks the eschatological kingdom, always generates history.” True hope seeks the Reign of God in the eschaton, after the end of time. False hope seeks a false Reign of God in this world, an escape from history. But what does this have to do with our social and political problems? A bad answer has been that we will hasten the Reign of God—speed up the end of time—by trying to build a paradise here on Earth. That is what those Catholic empires and the Marxists did. We know Francis does not mean that because he does not refer to an earthly paradise. He refers to “the eschatological kingdom,” the City of God after Jesus’s return, as the goal for our hope. Another bad answer is that we should simply wait out history, let the world take care of itself and Jesus will sort it all out when He comes back. But Francis cannot possibly mean that in a chapter that is concerned with “The Social Dimension of Evanglization.” The whole chapter is about our social mission, our responsibility to and for the world. So, if the two obvious answers are bad answers, then we know that something greater is going on here—something more challenging and more daring than those two varieties of what we might call ‘False Christian hope,’ which are either building a paradise on Earth or simply doing nothing because we think the world doesn’t matter.

 There is this other idea in that short sentence that we should notice: “True Christian hope, which seeks the eschatological kingdom, always generates history.” What a strange idea—to generate history. We know in the ordinary sense that generation is about making something. In a more particular sense, generation is about reproduction. Francis guides us toward his meaning little bit later in that chapter, where he writes about an “authentic faith—which is never comfortable or completely personal—[and which] always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it”(183). And, what I want to highlight is how closely interrelated those three things are—“to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.” Two of those three things are about our social mission: “to change the world” and “to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.” But of course, both of those also are about our responsibility to the future or, we might say, to future generations. It is the middle term that brings the idea home: “to transmit values.” It is in our mission of evangelizing, spreading the Gospel through the witness of our lives (which must be social witness, lived among other people) that we generate—we reproduce—the Christian message. We Christianize the history we live in today by living Christian lives that challenge us and others. We re-make the world in the image of the Gospel. We bring forth and advance toward the eschatological kingdom, as a pilgrim people on earth whose relationship to the Reign of God as now-not-yet shapes our relationship to the world. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The doing of God’s will on earth lives the kingdom in this moment, and brings forth the kingdom in history slowly as we march through time toward the end of time when Jesus will return. We do not escape from history. We bring forth the kingdom toward the end of history in history. It is our living in hope toward the Reign of God that generates history, which is our progress toward God’s Reign.

 Here is the important part. This work is never completed in history, in the world, in time. Like rolling a boulder uphill to watch it roll back downward and then roll it uphill again, this work must be performed over and over with each generation against the temptation to live as the world lives, to live for success in history and to master our place in history and the world. Our dream soars higher because our challenge is greater—which is why so many of us flee from that challenge. And still, even so, with such a daunting task, we are called to be a people of hope and joy.

 The Gospel promises us that the doing of these difficult things every day brings us joy and hope. “True Christian hope, which seeks the eschatological kingdom, always generates history.” We know this, if we know the joy that can be found in daily acts of self-denial and service to others. It is a joy we find in humility, not in mastery. And, this is Pope Francis’s call and encouragement to us amid the global crisis of the twenty-first century in which we are living.

 This is the perspective of Pope Francis’s most important writing, his 2015 encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, which is misunderstood if we think of it only as a document about environmentalism or climate change. If you have not read Laudato Si’, please do. And, especially, read chapter four where Pope Francis discusses a revolutionary idea: integral human ecology. It is a simple and radical idea that is blindingly obvious when we think about it for a moment. Integral human ecology means just this: “everything is clearly interrelated”(137), a phrase that repeats in this section of Laudato Si’ again and again. An encyclical letter about the environment cannot avoid being about economy, or culture, or the common good, or about our responsibility for the future, because all of those things take place in the environment. When we discuss care for our common home—an issue we tend to box up and separate from other issues as merely environmental—Francis reminds us that all of it and everything around us is a part of the same Creation and proceeds from the one, same, single Creative Act. There are no merely environmental issues, or pro-life issues, or economic issues, or social issues, or moral issues. They all come from the same source, they all are integrated in each of our lives because we all experience them in one Creation. We people of the twenty-first century tend mostly to believe we are individuals, isolated and in control of ourselves entirely, living lives distinct from one another’s. And, we tend to think of everything else that way, too. Francis reminds us powerfully in Laudato Si’ that is not true. Our dream soars higher.

 These are particularly important facts to recall as we look all around us at what I have called “the crisis of the 21st century”: not just rising nationalism, but also economic inequality and the individualism that says other persons (whether migrants, or the poor, or the unborn) are disposable, or the effects of that point of view on the earth, on us, on our children, and how all of that finally is the same crisis—not a range of separable problems, but at heart one singular problem: feeling ourselves to be masters of ourselves, our world, and all history, we fail to love.

 Here, I would close by saying something about politics that is very important to me, and it is something I think Pope Francis and I see very much the same way, something we all need to talk about more. In Laudato Si’, Francis says it all rather straightforwardly:

Love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care, is also civic and political, and it makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world. Love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions of a charity which affects not only relationships between individuals, but also “macro-relationships, social economic, and political ones.” That is why the Church set before the world the ideal of a “civilization of love.” Social love is the key to authentic development: “In order to make society more human, more worthy of the human person, love in social life—political, economic, and cultural, must be given renewed value, becoming the constant and highest norm for all activity”(231).

And, that is it. But, while that excerpt is from Laudato Si’, it is not only Francis. Francis quotes there from Paul VI. He also quotes from Benedict XVI. But of course, that only is because this is what Christianity always has told us about who we are.

 The poison in our politics is the mistaken idea that we have to defeat someone, that the next election will settle things, and we will get everything we want, and we will win. That we should win. We can achieve a paradise. We can cross some sort of a finish line that will set the world aright, once and for all. And, when did that ever happen? Yet over and over, we behave as though this time it might be true. We hear a call like the one Francis makes for a better world, which means doing that difficult work where we see only a little success at a time and which must be done again and again, and we imagine that our action will bring about the best world where, as Scripture tells us, “every tear will be dried and there will be no more death.” As though we could hasten the end of history, as though we can bring forth the Reign of God on our timetable and only our way.

 The Reign of God is now-not-yet. It is in our midst, here among us, within us. We are the City of God on a pilgrimage toward the City of God. It is both/and, a paradox. It is challenging. And, it is true. We already are God’s holy city. We cannot yet reach God’s holy city. So, what are we going to do with that problem?

 There is an answer. We can find the answer in the heart of what politics is: in discourse with one another as a community, in the space where we gather as a people united by our love for one another and for the good. In other words, we search in the relationships we have with one another over our differences and sinful imperfection.

 We need to recover a little bit of that sense of politics, a richness of what that word means. Too often, we say “politics” but we mean “self-interest,” or “bitter rivalry,” or, “partisanship.” And, it just isn’t so. From Greek times, politics means “what the people share in common.” It is our shared common life, our relationships. It is the space where we gather as a people united by our love for one another and the good. Or, we should see it that way. Our politics would be better if we did.

 And, it is not complicated. It begins with what Pope Francis said in Laudato Si’: “Love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care.” It is how we generate history, how we find true Christian hope. Just this past Sunday, we heard a reminder about it in the reading from the Book of Wisdom—God “love[s] all things that are, and loathe[s] nothing” in Creation. That includes people with whom we disagree. Quite often, we are like the people in last Sunday’s Gospel who heard Jesus say that He “must stay” at the house of Zacchaeus, the tax collector. Do you remember their reaction? “When they all saw this, they began to grumble,” all these followers of Jesus who had come out to hear Him. Zacchaeus was a sinner. Zacchaeus was not ‘one of us.’ We are more deserving than Zacchaeus. Like us, they were human beings: these divisions are natural. Of course we judge others, and we want to decide who should win and who should lose. But that is precisely what we must overcome in politics, in the Church, in life. And, what shall we do to overcome it? “Love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care.”

 Francis has written about how, “A community that cherishes the little details of love, whose members care for one another and create an open, evangelizing environment, is one where the Risen Lord is present”(Gaudete et Exsultate, 145). Pope Francis goes on to say, “I think especially of the three key words ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘sorry,’” because, “The right words, spoken at the right time, protect and nurture love”(n107). Speaking these right words, little deeds of humility, is where we must begin and re-begin with each new day, always traveling together down the pilgrim road toward the City of God as the City of God—a destination we believe we will reach but we do not know when or how we will reach it even as the City of God already is here among us. Our faith, our humility and love that begins with “please,” thank you”, and “sorry”—“small gestures of mutual care”—are the necessary first step. And, the second. And, the third. And, on, and on. In our daily lives, and in politics. When we embark on the pilgrim road this way, we can be surer that we never step falsely into the fantasy that we have the answers, we are in control, we can win, we can hasten the end of history all on our own and not on God’s time.

 Were the 2019 federal elections the start of Wexit here in Canada? Can thuggish nationalism take root here? Is there no hope we can live together in a “civilization of love,” seeking a better world as a community of fellow pilgrims and nations? I don’t think Canadians are any more immune to the danger than Americans are. But it is in your hands to build your community. In all our hands. It depends on how we all regard one another. It depends on whether we can love.

 It depends on how high our dream soars.

 Thank you.

Steven P. Millies

Associate Professor of Public Theology

Director, The Bernardin Center

Catholic Theological Union

5401 South Cornell Avenue

Chicago, IL 60615 USA

+1 773 371 5435 (direct) +1 803 979 5658 (mobile) +1 773 371 5566 (fax)

[email protected]

(1) Anthony Lewis. “The New Europe.” New York Times (12 November 1989), Week in Review section. 23.

(2) Flora Lewis. “The People Take Over.” New York Times (12 November 1989), Week in Review section. 23.

(3) James Atlas. “What Is Fukuyama Saying? And to Whom Is He Saying It?” New York Times (22 October 1989), accessed at:

(4) Quoting Shachi Kurl of the Angus Reid Institute, at: Dan Bilefsky and Ian Austen, “Trudeau Re-election Reveals Intensified Divisions in Canada” (22 October 2019), accessed online on November 1, 2019.

(5) Andrea Perrella, quoted at: Ibid.

(6) On February 19, for example, Scheer appeared at a rally on Parliament Hill with Faith Goldy, a proponent of the theory that “the white race” faces an imminent genocide and who has said, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” Scheer has not trafficked in these sorts of things himself, but he has courted relationships with the far right that legitimizes them and brings them into the political process, much as has been done in other parts of the world. See: Andrew Mitrovica. “Canada’s probable next PM is courting the far right to win.” Al-Jazeera (3 April 2019), accessed at:

Subscribe to News & Event information

Sign-up to receive notifications.