I enjoy good satire, whether from the right or the left. I think honest debate and cogent criticism are the political lifeblood of our country. But I believe, above all else, that we, individually and collectively, have a spiritual mission to heal the sick, provide for the poor, to civilize the world through acts of goodness and kindness.
We are all supposed to "practice what we preach," but religious leaders more so. Therefore, when I read that the leader of the Catholic Church has been quietly sneaking out of the Vatican at night to minister to homeless residents, I find that worthy of respect, not satire. When in his apostolic exhortation last week, his first, Pope Francis asked: "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" I find his question admirable, not an ideological talking point.
So, I'm not sure if Rush Limbaugh is pulling our chain, engaging in satire or being serious when he equated Pope Francis I to a communist.
After all, Limbaugh told an NBC News interviewer in 2009 that he tries to "tweak the media. I know how to yank their chain. I know how to send them into insanity. I know how to make them spend the next two days talking about me."
He added that at least half his show is satire, political humor, and those who carp about him confuse which is which. Howard Kurtz, the host of Fox News "Media Buzz," in his 1996 book, "Hot Air," quoted Limbaugh as saying, "I'm not out to save the country. I'm out to get a large audience. I'm an entertainer first and a conservative second."
So what did the pope say that earned him a classic Limbaugh attack? After all, in March, Limbaugh questioned if the pope was too conservative.
Full disclosure -- I was born and raised Catholic. I'm a practicing Catholic. Rush is not a Catholic, but he is respectful of different faiths.
What the pope did was to question the sacred cows of trickle-down economics and unregulated markets:
"Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world," Francis said.
"This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power. ... Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."
That they are.
Rush called the pope's tough words on trickle-down economics "pure Marxism." He questioned if the pope had written the words himself: "Somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him. This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope."
Well, this is an unusual pope. During his Inaugural Mass, Pope Francis urged global leaders and all people to do more to help the poor and the weak. This week, in a message called "The Joy of the Gospel," Pope Francis continues to focus on helping those who cannot defend themselves -- the poor and the weak.
He fired a bishop, called the "Bishop of Bling" for his excessive spending on his residence and himself. He has passed on living in the palatial apartment reserved for the pope in the Vatican, choosing simpler quarters nearby.
This pope actually lives the gospel rather than throwing it at his congregation. He's prayed with prostitutes and AIDS patients. Francis once stopped his motorcade to embrace and kiss a suffering man with lesions all over his head and body.
Pope Francis has said that atheists can go to heaven, urging those who reject the concept of God to continue to do good, and he and they will find a meeting point. He has not budged on the church's position on homosexuality, but stunned many by saying, "Who am I to judge?"
What we decidedly do not have here is a failure to communicate. Pope Francis is an excellent and principled communicator. He still maintains the church's position on male-only priesthood, while urging a greater role for women. Pope Francis is showing us how to maintain a steadfast doctrine of faith without being doctrinaire, or rigidly, accusingly, angrily ideological.
Limbaugh says the pope's opposition to drop-by-drop capitalism "makes it very clear he doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to capitalism and socialism."
Maybe. This pope, after all, has mostly shunned the Popemobile, a modified Mercedes-Benz 350M-Class, in favor of a 1984 Renault 4 economy car with 186,000 miles, given him by a 70-year-old priest.
But maybe he knows the difference and doesn't care about labels or $100 million contracts. Maybe he believes that faith is more important than entertainment, respect is more important than satire, and that more important than tweaking others is helping the poor, the sick and the needy.
There's no maybe, and those of us in the media should think about that.