Pope Francis in the U.S.

Pope FrancisFor the first time in his papacy—and his life—Pope Francis is visiting the United States. This week he is traveling through Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia. Hundreds of thousands of people are anticipating the chance to see him during his time here in our country. Tickets for public masses, papal parades and even public transportation are highly coveted.

During the first part of his six-day, three-city visit to the U.S., the pope met with President Obama and today will address the U.S. Congress. Later today he will travel to New York, where he will conduct evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and address the United Nations. Over the weekend he will take part in a Vatican-sponsored conference on families in Philadelphia. The official version of the Pope’s entire schedule is posted below.

Pope Francis, the 266th pope, was elected at the age of 76, is the first Jesuit pope and the first pope from the Americas. One report I read reminds us that the pope is not a politician, he’s a priest and that, despite what the American media might say of his objectives, this trip is the pope’s opportunity to focus more on things spiritual than things political. I hope that’s true.

I’ll take the risk here of sharing a few brief thoughts about popes and the Catholic Church. Quite often, when making a presentation on The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and its place in world Christendom, I compare the pope to the president of the LCMS. Here’s what I say:

The LCMS president has spiritual connection with approximately two million people, mostly in the United States. The pope has connection with over one billion people all across the globe. That’s one thousand million, which is 500 times more than the LCMS.

On November 26, 2001, just a few months after Terry and I sold our home and left our family in Texas to move to St. Louis to assume the office of president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, I underwent radical prostatectomy. Not many folks other than our family, my senior staff and a number of close friends knew about my surgery. That same week, Pope John Paul II had a cold and sore throat. He made front page news around the world! I fully understand the reason.

Our Lutheran Confessions refer to the papacy as the antichrist. This characterization is often understood to describe individual popes who conducted their ministry in less than God pleasing ways, especially the popes in office during the time leading up to the 16th century Reformation. Not nearly as many Lutherans today as in the past consider the pope the antichrist.

The Roman Catholic Church has different understandings of eternity than most of the rest of Christianity, including the existence of purgatory. Catholics are still assigned acts of penance and encouraged to purchase indulgences. While faith in Christ is emphasized, so is praying to saints. Papal infallibility, seven sacraments rather than just two, and the Immaculate Conception of Mary are also upheld. Lutherans and other Christians respectfully disagree with these beliefs.

For the record, our Lutheran understanding of eternity is simply this: We believe we are saved for eternity by grace, through faith in Christ our Lord, and not by works of the law. Because of the perfect fulfilling of the law by Christ and his vicarious atonement for our sins on Calvary’s cross, our sins are forgiven, both temporally and eternally. Heaven is a free gift of God’s grace, which we in no way deserve and for which we will be eternally grateful.

Notwithstanding the differences noted and a few others as well, which are not insignificant, I consider Roman Catholics our sisters and brothers in Christ. They, together with Lutherans and other Christians, confess their faith in The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed and The Athanasian Creed. Roman Catholics are not our greatest spiritual enemies. That designation belongs to Satan, the world, our own sinful flesh and Islam. I’ll say more about the last topic on that list in the weeks ahead.

In the meantime, welcome to the U.S., Pope Francis. I’m glad you’re here!

U.S. Itinerary for Pope Francis

Tuesday, Sept. 22

4 p.m.: Pope Francis arrives in U.S. at Joint Base Andrews just outside of Washington. He will be greeted by President Obama.

Wednesday, Sept. 23

9:15 a.m.: Pope Francis will appear at an official welcoming ceremony on the White House South Lawn then meet with President Obama.

11 a.m.: The Pope will parade around the Ellipse just south of the White House and the National Mall.

11:30 a.m.: Pope Francis will pray with U.S. bishops at D.C.’s St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

4:30p.m.: The Pope will canonize Junípero Serra during a mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Thursday, Sept. 24

10a.m.: Speech before a Joint Session of Congress followed by an appearance on the West Front of the Capitol at 11 a.m.

11:15 a.m.: The Pope will visit St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in D.C. and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, where he is expected to meet with clients of the St. Maria’s Meals program who will have gathered for lunch, including some who are homeless or live in shelters

4p.m.: Pope Francis heads to New York where he’ll land by 5 p.m.

6:45 p.m.: The Pope will conduct evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral near New York’s Rockefeller Center.

Friday, Sept. 25

8:30 a.m.: Pope Francis will address the United Nations General Assembly, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The Pope is also expected to attend bilateral meetings with the U.N. Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly.

11:30 a.m.: The Pope will pray, meet with families and deliver an address at a multi-religious service at the Sept. 11 memorial and museum at the site of the World Trade Center.

4 p.m.: Before taking his motorcade through Central Park, the Pope will visit a third grade class at Our Lady Queen of Angels school, a 120-year-old institution in East Harlem.

5 p.m.: Motorcade through West Central Park between 72nd and 60th Streets. A ticket and valid ID are required to enter.

6 p.m.: Mass at Madison Square Garden.

Saturday, Sept. 26

8:40 a.m.: Pope departs New York for final leg of the trip, arriving in Philadelphia at 9:30 a.m.

10:30 a.m.: Mass at Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

4:45 p.m.: The Pope is expected to talk immigration and religious during an address at Independence Mall

7:30 p.m.: Visit and prayer vigil at the World Meeting of the Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Sunday, Sept. 27

9:15 a.m.: The Pope will meet with Bishops at St. Martin’s Chapel, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

11 a.m.: Visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, the city’s largest jail.

4 p.m.: Mass at World Meeting of the Families.

7 p.m.: Meeting with World Meeting organizers, benefactors and volunteers.

8 p.m.: Official departure.

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Constitution Day

ConstitutionToday is Constitution Day, an American federal observance of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. Also called Citizenship Day, it is normally observed on September 17, the day in 1787 that delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution in Philadelphia.

Like many of you, I was required to memorize the Preamble:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Other provisions of particular interest are the following:

  • Provision is made for taxation of “the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
  • While every state shall have at least one member of the House of Representatives, the 13 original states of the union initially were entitled to have at least a specifically designated number of Representatives, ranging from one to ten per state.
  • Members of the House of Representatives must be at least 25 years old and a U.S. citizen for a minimum of seven years.
  • Members of the U.S. Senate must be at least 30 years old and a U.S. citizen for a minimum of nine years.
  • The President must be at least 35 years old, “a natural born citizen” and a resident of the U.S. for a minimum of 14 years.
  • “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress … engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.”
  • Senators and Representatives are bound by oath to support the Constitution; “but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Thirty-nine delegates to the Constitutional Convention – all men – actually signed the Constitution. The only ones whose names are famous or at least familiar to me are George Washington, John Blair, James Madison, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Rufus King, Samuel Johnson, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin.

If you have not read the Constitution recently, it’s a worthy experience to do so. Go to: http://www.usconstitution.cc/.

Happy Constitution Day! God Bless America!

America Remembers

WTC KieschnickFourteen years ago today, life changed in America and around the world. Most of us vividly remember that day, September 11, 2001, now known worldwide as 9/11. Images of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City burning and collapsing are indelibly etched in our minds and hearts.

Today many Americans are observing, participating in and watching TV coverage of ceremonies in New York City, at the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania. The names of those who lost their lives that day are being read by relatives in somber observances. America remembers 9/11.

On September 19, just over one week after the devastation, Atlantic District President Dr. David Benke and I visited Ground Zero in New York City. Dave’s wife Judy and my wife Terry have special, heartfelt recollections of that day and the days that followed. So do many others in our national church body, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

In a meeting of the LCMS Council of Presidents September 22-25, 2001, leaders of our church reached out to the nation by drafting and unanimously approving a full page statement published October 2, 2011, in USA Today and The New York Times. The text of that statement, titled A Promise, is posted below my signature.

If you were alive September 11, 2001, and old enough that day to grasp the gravity of what occurred, you will always remember 9/11. And so will I, remembering God’s promise that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

A Promise – The New York Times and USA Today – October 2, 2001

In the aftermath of our nation’s tragedy three weeks ago today, we of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod wholeheartedly offer our love and prayers for those tens of thousands of people whose lives have been drastically altered by the sudden loss of their loved ones and friends.

At such a time it is natural to wonder how we can get on with life.

Still heavy with the burden or our enormous loss, we face the potential for even more danger at our doorstep. And as we look out upon the world seeking a promise of comfort and hope, we may see only darkness.

Yet we are not the first people to suffer such darkness, nor to long for such a promise.

David in the Old Testament, in time of great personal and national distress, looked to God and took comfort in His promise:

“The Lord is my shepherd … Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

Jesus, to whom the Scriptures refer as our “Good Shepherd,” spoke words that are particularly poignant right now:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  

That Good Shepherd understands suffering and death … and His own death and resurrection promise hope and comfort to us all.

In these days of great personal and national trial, it is important to remember the words of St. Paul as we struggle with ‘getting on with life’:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And that’s His promise!

The Truth, the Whole Truth and …

Kieschnick GrandnieceBefore beginning today’s Perspectives, I’ll share one important update and one brief reflection:

  1. Update: My prematurely born great grandnieces are progressing quite well. Anna is blessed with good health and Emma (photo above) continues to improve, having had her breathing tube removed for 20 minutes recently. Thank you for your prayers for these two young ladies, their parents Amanda and Jesse and grandparents Doug and Diana.
  2. Reflection: This week marked the 14th anniversary of my initial installation as president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod on September 8, 2001. Three days later our world changed. In some ways it seems like yesterday. In other ways, a lifetime ago!

Now today’s edition. Most Americans know the words that follow the words in the title above. They are part of the oath Americans are required to make prior to taking the witness stand in a court of law. The entire oath is a question that goes something like this: “Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

While legally required to make this oath in court, is it not reasonable to assume that trusted leaders, both public and private, should adhere to the same standard at all times? Even when not called to testify in a court of law? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that were really the case?

In 1998 a 49-year-old national leader denied having a certain kind of improper relations with a 22-year-old woman. That leader told the American public he was telling the truth. But he wasn’t telling the whole truth. While denying that he had had a specific kind of relationship with this woman, it later came to light that he had had other equally improper relations with her.

That man held what is considered the most powerful office in the world. A number of others are now seeking that same office. Each of them has equal responsibility to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Several historical figures have said: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Abraham Lincoln said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Jesus in the four gospels said “I tell you the truth” 80 times.

What’s the bottom line? Leaders at all times should be held to the standard of speaking the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That standard is universally applicable to powerful leaders, both secular and sacred, in whom their constituencies place confidence and trust.

Old Farmer’s Advice II

windmill-182287_1280Following last week’s first installment of Old Farmer’s Advice, I received many expressions of appreciation. Sometimes the simplest truisms hit home more precisely than lengthy profundities.

So here we go with the second installment of simple but true bits of wisdom from an old farmer:

• Live a good and honorable life, then when you get older and think back, you’ll enjoy it a second time.
• The biggest troublemaker you’ll probably ever have to deal with watches you from the mirror every mornin’.
• If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around.
• Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.
• Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, and enjoy the ride.
• Most of the stuff people worry about, ain’t never gonna happen anyway.
• Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back in.
• If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’.
• Don’t interfere with somethin’ that ain’t bothering you none.
• Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.
• Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
• Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.
• Always drink upstream from the herd.
• Don’t judge folks by their relatives.

Bet you can’t guess what I’ll write about next week! Stay tuned. Until then and even after then, I pray that God will bless you with both wit and wisdom!