Sunday, May 20, 2018

Soft Power and Pentecost

An official blog post by the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, H.E. Mrs. Callista L. Gingrich, explaining the origins of the resident embassy of the U.S. in the Eternal City, kind of got me reflecting again on the topic of Vatican Diplomacy. Ambassador Gingrich would have us understand the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See to be a brainchild of President Ronald Reagan, who by this institutional means was eager to join forces with Pope St. John Paul II in the fight for justice in the international arena. The motivation she attributes to President Reagan is a strategic one and one seemingly which has remained a constant in U.S. foreign policy, and that for furthering the cause of justice the Holy See is a valuable ally for the U.S. She states that the Holy See can be classed a "superpower" when it comes to soft power, soft power being synonymous with moral authority. 

As I say, Ambassador Gingrich got me thinking. The term "soft power" is not an unfamiliar one. In diplomatic circles, you regularly hear talk of "hard" and "soft" diplomacy. The "hard" is usually associated with commerce and trade and the "soft" with cultural exchanges. In that sense, Ambassador Gingrich may be stretching it a bit in terms of the why and wherefore of diplomacy as we know it. It would seem she intends something more principled and born of truth, something worthy of Pope St. John Paul II and certainly right up the great President Reagan's alley. Here we see the Church standing forth and witnessing to Christ, using diplomacy for something quite different and exalted than the run of the mill; in the very spirit of the Ambassador's words, we see her country inspired by noble values, seeking an alliance with such a "power" as the Holy See and for the good of all. 

In her blog post, Ambassador Gingrich is making a huge compliment to the diplomacy or agenda of the Holy See in the international arena. I wonder, however, if she is not mixing metaphors or going beyond what is possible with the vehicle at hand. In season or out of season, it seems to me that diplomacy, no matter who is wielding it, cannot be a primary means to further the cause of the Gospel, or any kind of moral agenda for that matter. Leaving aside the slur normally tacked on to us, that truth has never been a diplomat's strong suit, diplomacy has always been a rather pragmatic means for defending one's interests and better understanding neighbors. It does indeed serve the cause of peace and mutual understanding and diplomacy certainly has an ancillary role to play in the cause of justice and truth. The question is: Where does Vatican diplomacy fit into the equation of a system made for promoting other things like trade and language studies or tango lessons, which it tends toward especially in the world of bilateral relations? What is its proper role?

As dean of the diplomatic corps in Bern, I try my best to make all the various embassy receptions, for national days. Often in the course of a given evening the ambassador offers a few words of circumstance about how things have gone in the homeland in the past year and how relations with Switzerland are progressing. Balance of trade and educational cooperation top one, the "hard" list and, the other, the "soft" list in these annual reports, and rightly so. Such an occasion lends itself only with difficulty to a Holy See "soft" list of the Gingrich art. What to do? 

Diplomacy by its very nature is not a pulpit or watchtower exercise. The prophetic role is better played by the local Church within a given country, when we are talking bilateral. I think in most cases we have to play the role of the "friend of the Bridegroom" and point with rejoicing to the one who has the Bride. While living in the truth, we can never forget that whoever attached the terms "extraordinary and plenipotentiary" to the title of ambassador had something very different in mind than Merriam-Webster's Dictionary. The word "power", soft or no, almost seems antipathetic to what your average ambassador or nuncio is about.

Speaking the truth in love, hardly seems an exercise in power, no matter how much it may bother the consciences of some. It really is a work of witnessing more than an attempt to win others over. I guess that really is Gospel, leaving all to Christ. St. Paul spoke of his mission not being focused primarily on counting the numbers baptized by his own hand as a result of his preaching:

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside." Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (I Cor. 1: 17-25)

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was accompanied by tongues of fire and signs of power like the great wind blowing. People were disarmed and turned to the faith as a result of Peter's preaching that day. Everything took place in God's good time and the Apostles emerged from the Upper Room with boldness, not of their own accord but compelled by the grace of God and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Secular diplomacy does not yoke well with this beautiful scene from the Acts of the Apostles. 

I take consolation here from figures like St. Rita of Cascia, a great intercessor whose feast comes up this week, or from St. Faustina and the mission to propagate the message of Divine Mercy, which she took on despite her inadequacy. God's wisdom and power shown forth brightly from these two women, but in God's own good time. We need but watch and pray, pouring ourselves out to make room for the King of Glory.

Let me rejoice in hearing the Bridegroom's Voice and pointing to Him when He should come no matter the day or the hour.


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