34. If we attempt to put all things in a missionary key, this will also affect the way we communicate the message. In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning. The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message. We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.
Posts such as these take a long time to complete. For one, I am a bit perplexed at the immediate reactions from both sides of the American political spectrum. On the left, it’s amazing to watch as they embrace very specific pieces of Evangelii Gaudium — namely paragraph 54 — while ignoring both paragraph 53 which puts the discussion on “trickle-down theories” in context while ignoring some of the strongest and unequivocal pro-life language in paragraph 214.
Additionally, there is some terrific language in this apostolic exhortation that describes how Catholic parishes need to resume their centrality in Catholic life. Once upon a time, the Church had a missionary spirit, Francis explains. Today, there is no greater need than for the Church to recapture this missionary zeal. This includes a decentralization of charity — perhaps the strongest words ever issued by a pope against the so-called Vatican Bank (more appropriately titled the Institutes for the Works of Religion) and against organizations such as Caritas International and Catholic Relief Services, under intense scrutiny by the Vatican and here in the United States for doing some pretty un-Catholic things with purportedly Catholic donations.
Viewed in this light, Evangelii Gaudium makes a whole lot more sense. If the purpose and the scope of the apostolic exhortation is to re-energize and re-vitalize Catholic parishes, then calls on the wealthy to do more locally and not rely on either “trickle down theories” or centralized charities — whether they are non-profits or the government — make all the more sense. Charity, as Pope Francis reminds us, can conquer the tyranny of ideologies that seems to have swept the world:
233. Realities are greater than ideas. This principle has to do with incarnation of the word and its being put into practice: By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is from God (1 Jn 4:2). The principle of reality, of a word already made flesh and constantly striving to take flesh anew, is essential to evangelization. It helps us to see that the Church’s history is a history of salvation, to be mindful of those saints who inculturated the Gospel in the life of our peoples and to reap the fruits of the Church’s rich bimillennial tradition, without pretending to come up with a system of thought detached from this treasury, as if we wanted to reinvent the Gospel. At the same time, this principle impels us to put the word into practice, to perform works of justice and charity which make that word fruitful. Not to put the word into practice, not to make it reality, is to build on sand, to remain in the realm of pure ideas and to end up in a lifeless and unfruitful self-centredness and gnosticism.
Read that one line again on charity: “At the same time, this principle impels us to put the word into practice, to perform works of justice and charity which make that word fruitful.” Charity making the word fruitful, an intensely personal and spiritual act that is a responsibility that cannot be given away to others. You, dear reader, are responsible for your own acts of charity — so do them and make them real, not figurative.
Before we get too far in this, there’s three things to keep in mind:
(1) Pope Francis is to be read in the context of those before him: Benedict XVI, John Paul II, John Paul I, Paul VI, John XXIII, Pius XII, Pius XI, Benedict XV, Pius X, Leo XIII and so forth. This is a very difficult concept for non-Catholics to understand, but Catholics cannot help but read texts — whether Scriptural or Magisterial — and understand them in their context.
(2) This letter is indeed an apostolic exhortation, not an encyclical. Indeed, Francis himself states at the very beginning of Evangelii Gaudium (para. 16) that the guidance herein is not to be taken as papal dictat, but rather as guidance to be applied — a sound decentralization in the word of Francis.
(3) There is nothing in Evangelii Gaudium that has not been said before. That’s right folks… apart from the rather refreshing emphasis on Catholic parishes and decentralizing charitable institutions, there is precious little in Evangelii Gaudium that is novel. Rather, Pope Francis has artfully crystallized the essence of Catholic social justice and embellished a few points instantly recognizable to students of Fr. Heinrich Pesch S.J., a fellow Jesuit whose synthesis of Austrian economics and Thomistic philosophy assisted in the creating of solidarist economics — principles that informed the creation of German social market theory in the 1950s and the Polish solidarity movement in the 1980s.
For instance, this line looks pretty radical, does it not?
Many other people, while not completely marginalized, live in situations in which the struggle for a bare minimum is uppermost. These are situations in which the rules of the earliest period of capitalism still flourish in conditions of “ruthlessness” in no way inferior to the darkest moments of the first phase of industrialization. In other cases the land is still the central element in the economic process, but those who cultivate it are excluded from ownership and are reduced to a state of quasi-servitude. In these cases, it is still possible today, as in the days of Rerum novarum, to speak of inhuman exploitation. In spite of the great changes which have taken place in the more advanced societies, the human inadequacies of capitalism and the resulting domination of things over people are far from disappearing. In fact, for the poor, to the lack of material goods has been added a lack of knowledge and training which prevents them from escaping their state of humiliating subjection.
Who wrote that? Pope John Paul II in Centesimus Annus, which is a papal encyclical.
The argument that Pope Francis is somehow shedding his anti-communist facade and suddenly embracing liberation theology is patently absurd. Not only does Evangelii Gaudium express the very same elements of Catholic social justice theory as expressed by John Paul II in Centesimus Annus and first expressed by Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum, it is well known that all three pontiffs are equally anti-socialist as well. Francis himself says as such:
204. We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded.
Translation? We don’t need socialism to fix social ills. What we need is a market devoted to more than crass materialism — the very same errors the Soviet communists made in promoting “scientific socialism” during the latter half of the 20th century. What we do need, Francis states rather clearly, are moral markets.
Thus ends Francis’ exposition on sound economies, because Evangelii Gaudium had a whole lot more to say than merely to speak on free market capitalism.
* * *
There are five chapters to Evangelii Gaudium, and each deserve to be taken on their own merits: (1) the missionary activity of the Catholic Church, (2) charitable works — and this is where the political religions of the left and the right are simultaneously choking — (3) preaching and the role of Catholic pastors which has also been widely ignored, (4) Catholic social justice and fidelity — this chapter perhaps being the most critical of the entire apostolic exhortation, and (5) prescriptions for the cure of the illnesses presented by a modernist society.
THE MISSIONARY ACTIVITY OF THE CHURCH
“There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” (para. 6)
Now in the context of the political right and left, or perhaps in the struggle between Catholic “progressives” and Catholic “conservatives” this is a knife that cuts both ways. Enter into any Catholic parish that is all guitar and sandals, and you’ll find an aging and empty church begging to be more inclusive in order to save itself — and still finding itself empty. Likewise, enter any Catholic parish that is all rubrics and Latin, and you’ll find a spirit that sneers at the “Novus Ordo” and the innovations of the Second Vatican Council. Rare is it nowadays to find a parish that embraces the Second Vatican Council’s evangelizing spirit while remaining true to the entirety of Catholic social justice teaching and the dignity of human life. Just as the question, “What do you think of Humanae Vitae?” and you’ll find out very quickly which side of the fence this particular parish is on.
Pope Francis seeks to end this, and he says things that are very uncomfortable for the other side to hear. Lent without Easter matches precisely what Pope Francis, in an earlier homily to the Catholic faithful, what he terms as a joyless Church — one that is more concerned with the sins of others rather than the fruits:
“(C)alumny… is of course a sin… but it is something more. Calumny aims to destroy the work of God, and calumny comes from a very evil thing: it is born of hatred. And hate is the work of Satan. Calumny destroys the work of God in people, in their souls. Calumny uses lies to get ahead. And let us be in no doubt, eh?: Where there is calumny, there is Satan himself. “
…and how many times have we heard calumnious remarks in a parish, much less in this very tiny political sphere of ours?
Note to one another. When you hear nasty rumors, calumnious remarks about others, and the like? Those people need prayers in a big way.
Want to read something really cool? Check this out from Pope Francis (para. 7):
7. Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy. I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to. I also think of the real joy shown by others who, even amid pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.
In one paragraph, we get diagnosis, prescription, cure, and physical therapy — do we not? In short, we live in a society of distractions… set them down, learn from the poor who have a great deal to teach you, because in their faces is the face of God who created them.
The real meat of the first chapter comes in para. 28-29, where Francis begs the Church to becomes more identified with their local parishes as the center of Catholic faith:
Other Church institutions, basic communities and small communities, movements, and forms of association are a source of enrichment for the Church, raised up by the Spirit for evangelizing different areas and sectors. Frequently they bring a new evangelizing fervour and a new capacity for dialogue with the world whereby the Church is renewed. But it will prove beneficial for them not to lose contact with the rich reality of the local parish and to participate readily in the overall pastoral activity of the particular Church. This kind of integration will prevent them from concentrating only on part of the Gospel or the Church, or becoming nomads without roots.
Of course, there’s para. 34:
If we attempt to put all things in a missionary key, this will also affect the way we communicate the message. In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects.
Pope Francis dives right into the missionary spirit of the Church and how it is sadly lacking, and admonishes Catholics to get dirty, get involved, and live the Gospel — words that anyone of the “John Paul II Generation” can immediately understand. “Do not be afraid to live the Gospel!” says Pope Saint John Paul the Great — and Pope Francis echoes those words:
49. Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door peole are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: Give them something to eat (Mk 6:37).
I challenge the reader to ask themselves whether or not Pope Francis is talking about earthly needs or spiritual ones here.
It is the next five paragraphs that seem to be creating the most controversy among the political right, so with that I’ll open with the concerns of Fr. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute. It’s worth watching, if for no other reason than to understand how free marketeers of the Catholic persuasion are reacting to this opening salvo from Pope Francis on a chapter dedicated to charitable works, not an indictment of capitalism:
So how to take this? One bite at a time, of course…
Para. 50: Short version? So how is a Catholic supposed to operate in this crazy world of ours?
Before taking up some basic questions related to the work of evangelization, it may be helpful to mention briefly the context in which we all have to live and work. Today, we frequently hear of a “diagnostic overload” which is not always accompanied by improved and actually applicable methods of treatment. Nor would we be well served by a purely sociological analysis which would aim to embrace all of reality by employing an allegedly neutral and clinical method. What I would like to propose is something much more in the line of an evangelical discernment. It is the approach of a missionary disciple, an approach “nourished by the light and strength of the Holy Spirit”.
Pope Francis specifically quotes Pope John Paul II in Pastores Dabo Vobis — very specifically, paragraph 10 of yet another apostolic exhortation which introduces to Catholicism the term “the new evangelization” we read so frequently in the writings of Pope Benedict XVI:
In such a way, Gospel discernment gathers from the historical situation – from its events and circumstances – not just a simple “fact” to be precisely recorded yet capable of leaving a person indifferent or passive, but a “task,” a challenge to responsible freedom – both of the individual person and of the community. It is a “challenge” which is linked to a “call” which God causes to sound in the historical situation itself.
A challenge linked to a call. Not bad, eh?
Para. 51: Pope Francis asks the Catholic faithful and our bishops and priests to be on the watch, accepting the good and rejecting the evil in movements that would either strengthen or sap the missionary zeal of the Church:
It is not the task of the Pope to offer a detailed and complete analysis of contemporary reality, but I do exhort all the communities to an ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of the times. This is in fact a grave responsibility, since certain present realities, unless effectively dealt with, are capable of setting off processes of dehumanization which would then be hard to reverse. We need to distinguish clearly what might be a fruit of the kingdom from what runs counter to God’s plan. This involves not only recognizing and discerning spirits, but also –and this is decisive — choosing movements of the spirit of good and rejecting those of the spirit of evil. I take for granted the different analyses which other documents of the universal magisterium have offered, as well as those proposed by the regional and national conferences of bishops. In this Exhortation I claim only to consider briefly, and from a pastoral perspective, certain factors which can restrain or weaken the impulse of missionary renewal in the Church, either because they threaten the life and dignity of God’s people or because they affect those who are directly involved in the Church’s institutions and in her work of evangelization.
Para. 52: Modern society has given us appreciable better things, but these advancements — and those enjoying them — should not forget those who are not included in the appreciation of the advancements of modern culture and modern capitalism:
In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity. This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occuring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.
You’ll see the line where Pope Francis mentions, “(T)he joy of living frequently fades.” Powerful line, and one we’ll come back to in another chapter later on. You’ll notice also that Pope Francis mentions human dignity in this paragraph. Again, very important to remember as we move forward.
Para. 53: The most important of the five paragraphs is this one right here. Francis takes dead aim at materialism and consumerism, at sensationalized media that glorifies stock losses but passes over in silence those who die because of our lack of charity. In short, the materialistic “disposable culture” that treats others as automatons rather than people created in the image and likeness of God…
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. 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? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “disposable” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised — they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.
Powerful words, and words that should sting anyone with a conscience. Keep in mind this: Francis has already set the stages in his preface that (1) the Catholic parish is to be the center of missionary activity and that (2) decentralizaiton rather than assigning the responsibility of charity to the state or to non-profits is the norm Francis prefers to see in a new, more mission-oriented Church.
Para. 54: Now onto the lines that give political conservatives such heartburn…
In this context, 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. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.
Almost like Pope Francis saw images of mobs of people fighting over packages at Wal-Mart and just shook his head, eh?
You’ll notice that Francis (1) separates trickle-down theories from (2) as being distinct and different from being “encouraged by the free market” as a whole. Free markets aren’t what Francis is criticizing here, but rather the lazy idea that “trickle down” economics somehow lifts people from poverty by its own volition, much as a sale at Wal-Mart somehow lifts people from poverty. Does it?
Francis — as well as any causal observer of any video showing Wal-Mart shoppers fight over $500 televisions — would disagree. Francis condemns a consumerist culture that is merely keeping up with the Joneses as it were (or in Francis’ words, “we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle”) and simply views human beings as participants in the spectacle of consumerism as something abhorrent… “they fail to move us” as Pope Francis rightly mentions.
So is this a rejection of free market principles? Hardly. Is it a rejection of materialism and consumerism? Holy cow (pun unintended) it is… and in some of the most forceful and direct language seen from a pontiff in… well, ever. Pope John Paul II could articulate it, Pope Benedict could explain it… but if it cuts deeper coming from Pope Francis it’s because he makes it so plain as to remove any doubt.
Para. 55: And yes, if Pope Francis were a WWE wrestler, he would be the Macho Man Randy Savage… because you can see him climbing the ropes through paras. 50-54 only to deliver the diving elbow drop on his victim: consumerism!
Sorry guys… if you really understood how much fun Catholics steeped in theology really have when reading papal documents, you’d get this joke more than most.
Pope Francis from the ropes!
One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.
BOOM! Mean Gene, count ‘em out… one… two… three… *DING! DING! DING!* It’s over!
But does Pope Francis leave it alone? Heck no… he’s like the wrestler who, after seeing his opponent being tended to by referees and EMT staff, climbs back into the ring to deliver more punishment!
Para. 56: …I mean, this is like the Four Horsemen sort of punishment right here:
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.
Crony capitalism? SMASHED.
I mean, folks just got rocked right here.
Following this is a reminder in paras. 57-58 that ethics must govern the actions of multinationals, and that behind efforts to dehumanize society is a viewpoint that discards ethics and ultimately discards the notion of God. In para. 58 he specifically reminds the rich that they have a unique duty to the poor — profit, yes… but not at the expense of another’s humanity. ? Pope Francis even goes so far as to permit “a non-ideological ethics” and in quoting St. John Chrysostom:
Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.
…reminds us that wealth is an object, and so long as it does not serve from whence it came (and ultimately, do these riches not come from God?), it is idolatry, usury, and habits that spawn viciousness in the world — the opposite of virtue.
Of course, the “social justice” crowd doesn’t come away clean in this equation at all. Pope Francis takes direct aim at them in para. 60:
Some simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their troubles; indulging in unwarranted generalizations, they claim that the solution is an “education” that would tranquilize them, making them tame and harmless.
Again, the target — Materialism and consumerism — the idea that material goods can lift people from poverty, either its material or spiritual forms.
Para. 63 capstones the argument:
The Catholic faith of many peoples is nowadays being challenged by the proliferation of new religious movements, some of which tend to fundamentalism while others seem to propose a spirituality without God. This is, on the one hand, a human reaction to a materialistic, consumerist and individualistic society, but it is also a means of exploiting the weaknesses of people living in poverty and on the fringes of society, people who make ends meet amid great human suffering and are looking for immediate solutions to their needs. These religious movements, not without a certain shrewdness, come to fill, within a predominantly individualistic culture, a vacuum left by secularist rationalism. We must recognize that if part of our baptized people lack a sense of belonging to the Church, this is also due to certain structures and the occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems, be they simple or complex, in the lives of our people. In many places an administrative approach prevails over a pastoral approach, as does a concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of evangelization.
That’s worth reading again, folks. Slowly — and deliberate on each word. A spirituality without God. A vacuum left by secularist rationalism. Administrative vs. pastoral approaches.
Is it not clear that Pope Francis is taking direct aim at materialism? Consumerism? Secular rationalism? All of which spawn an individualistic, adolescent, sophomoric sense of the primacy of self?
Pope Francis is also very critical of modern education, specifically lamention how “(w)e are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data — all treated as being of equal importance — and which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. In response, we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.” (para. 64)
Pope Francis also recommits the Church to the defense of marriage (para. 66, not coincidentally), opposes secularism (para. 65), condemns self-centered individualism (para, 67), and openly concerns himself with problems outlining how Catholics are passing along — and in many cases, are not passing on — the Catholic faith to their children (para. 70).
What’s really fascinating about paras 81-83 is the Pope Francis’ treatment of acedia, or spiritual sloth. Today more than ever, there a million distractions, and none more so than for our priests and religious. Francis asks them to remind themselves of their calling and refuse “to be robbed of the joy of evangelization!” Too many cases of depression are probably better termed as cases of acedia… it’s a shame that modern medicine doesn’t recognize the term as readily as it ought to.
Para. 85. Pope Francis uses the term sourpusses. Yes, sourpusses.
One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, “sourpusses”. Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness? (2 Cor 12:9). Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil. The evil spirit of defeatism is brother to the temptation to separate, before its time, the wheat from the weeds; it is the fruit of an anxious and self-centred lack of trust.
So you’re either on board, or you’re a sourpuss. Roma locuta, causa finita!
Pope Francis then reminds Catholics that we must not be afraid of encounters with others, that even online we must recognize that we have no choice but to make encounters and engage the world at the expense of ourselves. “Imaginatio locorum et mutatio multos fefellit,” reminds Francis (i.e. imagination and changing places deceives many) — again, another reference to acedia — is an encouragement to remain where we are and bring Catholic culture to those who most need it; missionaries in our own place and time. (para. 91)
Even the neotraditionalists get their knock in paras. 94-95 from Pope Francis, labeling the movement a “promethean neopelagianism” that draws inward and classifies other Catholics as something less, calling this retraction an “insidious worldliness” — a preoccupation with the liturgy or “worship services” without realizing that liturgy and song are a means of praying with the Church, not of proclaiming independence from the masses or the Mass itself. “Evangelical fervour.” says Francis, “is replaced by the empty pleasure of complacency and self-indulgence.” How true this is of both the guitar-and-sandals (also known as the Worship and Praise section) as well as the neo-trads?
Para. 96: Oh boy… red meat here!
This way of thinking also feeds the vainglory of those who are content to have a modicum of power and would rather be the general of a defeated army than a mere private in a unit which continues to fight. How often we dream up vast apostolic projects, meticulously planned, just like defeated generals! But this is to deny our history as a Church, which is glorious precisely because it is a history of sacrifice, of hopes and daily struggles, of lives spent in service and fidelity to work, tiring as it may be, for all work is “the sweat of our brow”. Instead, we waste time talking about “what needs to be done?” — in Spanish we call this the sin of “habriaque smo” — like spiritual masters and pastoral experts who give instructions from on high. We indulge in endless fantasies and we lose contact with the real lives and difficulties of our people.
Short version: get out from behind your desk and office and go into the world. Abandon your titles and do the work you say you are intent upon doing. Francis uses the term “the sweat of our brow” — because its not enough to be merely a teacher or an administrator, you have to get out and get bruised, dirty, and not for the show of doing so — but out of honest love for the work of God. Pick a Beatitude and live it!
Para. 104: “The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion…”
Francis doesn’t just slam the door on this. Francis unequivocally states the door was never opened. In fact, there was no door, is no door, and never will be a door to open.
Para. 109: How’s this for a closing?
Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigour!
…and so a chapter that every prognosticator has vilified, from it’s seeming condemnation of “free market” economics (which Francis never does) to its refusal to consider women priests (which Francis never said and confirms it here) is brought to a close. Francis’ main points? Consumerism and materialism sap our missionary vigor, recapture this vigor, and do not give into acedia — stay put and bloom where you are planted, because that’s where God put you. Better a private in a winning army than the general of a losing one… and boy, how many Catholic non-profits can claim the title of the latter?
PREACHING AND THE ROLE OF CATHOLIC PASTORS
There is often a danger when it comes to Catholicism as to whether or not we are straying from the Faith of Our Fathers Holy Faith to some sort of giant philosophy club plus ritual. It’s a nagging concern brought about by the advent of modernism in the 19th century, and we’re reminded of it from time to time as our theology and the lives of our seminarians and professors centers our future priests around the more esoteric concepts of the Catholic faith rather than the gritty and realistic version found in the slums, trailers, plywood palaces, suburban hells and other places of spiritual poverty.
Pope Francis is more keenly aware of this than others, himself having removed the papal apartments from the Courtyard of Sixtus V to the House of Saint Martha (Domus Sanctae Marthae) — literally, a guest house built in the 1990s to accommodate visiting cardinals during a papal conclave, apostolic synod, or an ecumenical council such as the Second Vatican Council. ?Pope Francis preferred to remain with the people, or at least as close to the people of God as common sense and the Swiss Guards permit — which I’m sure must border on between the hilarious and the exasperating for various flies on the wall. ?One example? ?Wandering outside so Pope Francis could deliver a sandwich to the Papal guard.
I am not going to devote as much time to this chapter, though not out of a lack of appreciation. ?The chapter centers around (1) the people of God, (2) the homily or sermon, (3) the preparation required to preach, and (4) the concept of?kerygma or preaching — more specifically, a way of preaching — and why it is so important to the faith of the Church. ?Those seeking to learn why Pope Francis is such a great homilist will find the answers here. ?It is not merely letting the Holy Spirit ramble off a few words; Pope Francis very directly emphasizes a preparation, an understanding, and an emotive response to the Other that we rarely find nowadays.
Para. 171 is perhaps the most beautiful and heartfelt of the chapter. ?Watch as Pope Francis pivots between modern society and its ability to highlight vice over virtue, and then pivots on the differences between hearing and actual listening:
Today more than ever we need men and women who, on the basis of their experience of accompanying others, are familiar with processes which call for prudence, understanding, patience and docility to the Spirit, so that they can protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock. We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders. Only through such respectful and compassionate listening can we enter on the paths of true growth and awaken a yearning for the Christian ideal: the desire to respond fully to God?s love and to bring to fruition what he has sown in our lives. But this always demands the patience of one who knows full well what Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us: that anyone can have grace and charity, and yet falter in the exercise of the virtues because of persistent ?contrary inclinations?. In other words, the organic unity of the virtues always and necessarily exists in habitu, even though forms of conditioning can hinder the operations of those virtuous habits. Hence the need for ?a pedagogy which will introduce people step by step to the full appropriation of the mystery?. Reaching a level of maturity where individuals can make truly free and responsible decisions calls for much time and patience. As Blessed Peter Faber used to say: ?Time is God?s messenger?.
Patience — not a vitrue I possess, but one I will clearly have to work upon.
CATHOLIC SOCIAL JUSTICE AND FIDELITY
Here, Pope Francis starts talking about the “practical conclusions” (para. 182) of living the Gospel, both in the sense of evangelizing and in the sense of fraternal love and correction.
Para. 183: ?Pope Francis strikes out hard in the defense of religious freedom and the rights of conscience:
Consequently, no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith ? which is never comfortable or completely personal ? always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed ?the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics?, the Church ?cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice?. All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world. This is essential, for the Church?s social thought is primarily positive: it offers proposals, it works for change and in this sense it constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ. At the same time, it unites ?its own commitment to that made in the social field by other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, whether at the level of doctrinal reflection or at the practical level?.
So much for a Catholic Church designed to sit on the sidelines, eh?
Para, 184: ?Instructive to those who suggest that Pope Francis is anti-capitalist:
This is not the time or the place to examine in detail the many grave social questions affecting today?s world, some of which I have dealt with in the second chapter. This Exhortation is not a social document, and for reflection on those different themes we have a most suitable tool in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, whose use and study I heartily recommend. Furthermore, neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social realities or the proposal of solutions to contemporary problems. Here I can repeat the insightful observation of Pope Paul VI: ?In the face of such widely varying situations, it is difficult for us to utter a unified message and to put forward a solution which has universal validity. This is not our ambition, nor is it our mission. It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country?
…and there you have it from the man himself.
Pope Francis begins paras. 187-189 with exhortations to recognize the special place of the poor in Scripture, “the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society.” ?Very quickly, Pope Francis starts borrowing from Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J. in his concepts of solidarity and solidarist economics in para. 189:
Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property. The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them. These convictions and habits of solidarity, when they are put into practice, open the way to other structural transformations and make them possible. Changing structures without generating new convictions and attitudes will only ensure that those same structures will become, sooner or later, corrupt, oppressive and ineffectual.
PESCH! ?PESCH! ?PESCH!
Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J. is a giant among Catholic economists. ?His works are only now being translated into English, but the impact that he had on Pope Pius XI and the Polish solidarity movement in the 1980s is unmistakable. ?Further, Pesch’s solidarism was the foundation for what the West Germans used to rebuild their shattered rump state after the Second World War. ?During the Great Recession, while the rest of Europe fell into the grip of the banking crisis, nations that embraced the “social market” such as Germany, Poland, and Estonia being core examples not only endured but prospered. ? Solidarism is best described by the New Oxford Review’s Thomas Storck:
Pesch, as a Catholic economist, necessarily rejects socialism and all forms of collectivism. He places private property — along with the family and the state — as one of the three pillars of the social order. At the same time, he rejects free-market capitalism, for from his examination of the nature of man and society, he is led to the idea of the mutual interdependence of all members of society. Thus, his system is called Solidarism — or the Solidaristic System of Human Work — which in outline will be familiar to all readers of the papal social encyclicals. For example, as both Leo XIII and Pesch point out, because capital and labor depend on each other, or, more precisely, since owners and workers depend on each other, there should not be any fundamental conflict between these different economic agents. And there is no reason to suppose that society will flourish best when each member tries only to advance his own economic welfare, any more than that the family maximizes its own happiness when each member thinks solely of his own interests.
The article itself is worth reading in your copious amounts of spare time, I know… but the general thrust remains the same. ?People — not capital nor the state — drive economies. ?Moreover, concepts of property rights have to pilot themselves between two extremes, as Pope Pius XI articulates in para. 46 of?Quadragesimo Anno on the 40th anniversary of Leo XIII’s?Rerum Novarum:
Accordingly, twin rocks of shipwreck must be carefully avoided. For, as one is wrecked upon, or comes close to, what is known as “individualism” by denying or minimizing the social and public character of the right of property, so by rejecting or minimizing the private and individual character of this same right, one inevitably runs into “collectivism” or at least closely approaches its tenets. Unless this is kept in mind, one is swept from his course upon the shoals of that moral, juridical, and social modernism which We denounced in the Encyclical issued at the beginning of Our Pontificate. And, in particular, let those realize this who, in their desire for innovation, do not scruple to reproach the Church with infamous calumnies, as if she had allowed to creep into the teachings of her theologians a pagan concept of ownership which must be completely replaced by another that they with amazing ignorance call “Christian.”
Strong words, but inherently Catholic ones — and a papal encyclical at that.
Pope Francis instead speaks of “a solidarity which ?would allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny?, since ?every person is called to self-fulfilment.” ?(para. 190) ?
Para. 192: ?Here comes the linkage between Thomistic philosophy and Austrian economics:
Yet we desire even more than this; our dream soars higher. We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a ?dignified sustenance? for all people, but also their ?general temporal welfare and prosperity?. This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use.
In one shot, you get (1) proper education, (2) basic health care, (3) an emphasis on employment and (4) a living wage. ?Four prescriptions that, though the free market has helped us realize these more than any other economic system to date, and while social democracy has done more to increase liberty by offering universal education and health care, they have also in turn degraded both the value “hard work” through state entitlements and the value of a “just wage” through inflation and fiat paper monetary policies.
Pope Francis then turns to the question of the poor and acts of mercy. ?Para. 194 are probably the most touching of the lines in the encyclical:
When Saint Paul approached the apostles in Jerusalem to discern whether he was ?running or had run in vain? (Gal 2:2), the key criterion of authenticity which they presented was that he should not forget the poor (cf. Gal 2:10). This important principle, namely that the Pauline communities should not succumb to the self-centred lifestyle of the pagans, remains timely today, when a new self-centred paganism is growing. We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards.
Here you have an image of St. Paul wondering whether his life had been lived in vain. ?The one signpost remains: are you living your life for the least of those in society? ?Not just handing out gift cards, or making a couple of donations here or there. ?Are you tutoring a child? ?Cleaning up a walkway? ?Painting a house? ?Caring for the sick? ?Patching a roof? ?Visiting the imprisoned? ?Working a soup kitchen? ?Finding someone a job? ?Helping someone get an education? ?Paying your employees a living wage? ?Working in a place where your employment is being used for the common good rather than an elite few? ?If the answers to these questions are “yes, I pay taxes” or “yes, I donate to charity” or “yes, I did that last month” then you’ve answered incorrectly.
Encounters with the poor must be constant, says Pope Francis. ?Remember para. 54? ?We are all, in some ways, richer than others… you have a responsibility as a Christian to give back what you have in your custody. ?Again, pick a Beatitude and live it.
para. 196 says it all:
Sometimes we prove hard of heart and mind; we are forgetful, distracted and carried away by the limitless possibilities for consumption and distraction offered by contemporary society. This leads to a kind of alienation at every level, for ?a society becomes alienated when its forms of social organization, production and consumption make it more difficult to offer the gift of self and to establish solidarity between people?
You’d be surprised what you have to offer to others!
Interestingly enough, Pope Francis condemns what he calls “an unruly activism” (para. 199)?and condemns “attempt(s) to exploit the poor for one?s own personal or political interest.” ?Strong words towards those who would use injustices — perceived or otherwise — for political gain. ?In para. 200, we get to “the poorest of the poor” indeed — and perhaps the hardest to care for:
Since this Exhortation is addressed to members of the Catholic Church, I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith. Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care.
“(M)ust mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care.”
para. 201:? Have you considered that perhaps — just perhaps — you are the “poorest of the poor” in this regard? ?Because by refusing to engage the poor on their terms, you may very well be the person who Pope Francis is speaking about:
No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles. While it is quite true that the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel, none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice: ?Spiritual conversion, the intensity of the love of God and neighbour, zeal for justice and peace, the Gospel meaning of the poor and of poverty, are required of everyone?. I fear that these words too may give rise to commentary or discussion with no real practical effect. That being said, I trust in the openness and readiness of all Christians, and I ask you to seek, as a community, creative ways of accepting this renewed call.
…and this is the only time Pope Francis uses the words “I fear” in the first person context.
Very soon, we get to yet another indictment of consumerism and materialism, and this gives many on the political right a great deal of heartburn in para. 204. ?I don’t know why this is… because Pope Francis is very clear that he does not see the utopias of the left as an answer, not at all…
We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded.
Meanwhile, in para. 207 Pope Francis makes it abundantly clear that he does not see the Church becoming some sort of social justice pity party:
Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues or criticize governments. It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk.
In short, both the left and the right — should they choose to breathe with only one lung, either by focusing solely on the social issues of the right or the social issues of the left, and do so without a focus on the poor (both material and spiritual) — will drift into “a?spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk.”
…and what’s more, Francis knows it’s tough talk. ?para. 208 seeks to calm down any possible ruffled feathers:
If anyone feels offended by my words, I would respond that I speak them with affection and with the best of intentions, quite apart from any personal interest or political ideology. My words are not those of a foe or an opponent. I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centred mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth.
It is a dual rejection of materialism and consumerism, visions and political systems that are blind to the poor and the weakest among us, that work towards the?greater good rather than the common good. ?In short, following in the footsteps of?Veritatis Splendor and Pope John Paul II — Pope Francis takes square aim at proportionalist ethics and destroys it.
live from the Vatican…?
para. 213: ?Regarding Pope Francis’ so-called “openness” on the question of abortion…
Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church?s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, ?every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the creator of the individual?.
OK, OK… so what if he?really didn’t mean that? ?I mean, Pope Francis is a liberalizing, ?open, progressive sort of fellow… why, he couldn’t follow that up with something in para. 214, right?
Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or ?modernizations?. It is not ?progressive? to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?
Pope Francis can do defend life all day long, folks.
All. ?Day. ?Long.
Pope Francis also talks about peace, what it is… and what it is not (para. 218):
Peace in society cannot be understood as pacification or the mere absence of violence resulting from the domination of one part of society over others. Nor does true peace act as a pretext for justifying a social structure which silences or appeases the poor, so that the more affluent can placidly support their lifestyle while others have to make do as they can. Demands involving the distribution of wealth, concern for the poor and human rights cannot be suppressed under the guise of creating a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority. The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised.
Some peace is more deadly than war? Sound familiar? para. 219:
Nor is peace simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day towards the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect justice among men?. In the end, a peace which is not the result of integral development will be doomed; it will always spawn new conflicts and various forms of violence.
What are we seeing here and why is this important? ?It is a restatement of Catholic Just War Doctrine.
Pope Francis goes on to explain how the new missionary activity of the Church will not be accomplished overnight. ?Time endures, and in para. 224 you see a Pope Francis musing on whether or not we, as Catholics, understand that all good things do come in time:
Sometimes I wonder if there are people in today’s world who are really concerned about generating processes of people-building, as opposed to obtaining immediate results which yield easy, quick short-term political gains, but do not enhance human fullness. History will perhaps judge the latter with the criterion set forth by Romano Guardini: ?The only measure for properly evaluating an age is to ask to what extent it fosters the development and attainment of a full and authentically meaningful human existence, in accordance with the peculiar character and the capacities of that age?.
Not only do I wonder, I am very much guilty as charged on this matter… mostly because I expect people to rise above themselves. ?Rarely have I seen this occur, and I walk away more disappointed than impressed. ?Perhaps if changes come in increments, over longer periods of time, they are more enduring? ?Perhaps so…
Given some of the scandals within the Church, it’s useful to see Pope Francis understand conflict both in terms of time and in terms of truth. ?Most remarkably, in para. 226-228, you see a Pope Francis willing to take controversies head one while refusing to budge on fidelity… and then in para. 228, you see what his rubric will be:
In this way it becomes possible to build communion amid disagreement, but this can only be achieved by those great persons who are willing to go beyond the surface of the conflict and to see others in their deepest dignity. This requires acknowledging a principle indispensable to the building of friendship in society: namely, that unity is greater than conflict. Solidarity, in its deepest and most challenging sense, thus becomes a way of making history in a life setting where conflicts, tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity. This is not to opt for a kind of syncretism, or for the absorption of one into the other, but rather for a resolution which takes place on higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides.
So not a syncretism, and not a lack of fidelity or care… but rather, a willingness to create peace and move beyond self. ?On this part, I’d consider myself rather good at attempting to do this… though I wonder how well this works when one (or both) sides act from ill-faith? ?Franics in para. 230 offers some insight: “The message of peace is not about a negotiated settlement but rather the conviction that the unity brought by the Spirit can harmonize every diversity.” ?Which makes sense… otherwise we are back to a description of peace as an absence of warfare, and the cycle starts anew.
para. 231:? For anyone who has talked to me long enough, you’ll pick up that I have nothing but intense dislike for “political religions” of any stripe. ?Partly borrowed from Michael Burleigh’s magisterial work in Sacred Causes and Earthly Powers, you’ll find even among holidays that one will find Republicans and Democrats at odds around a dinner table the way one might have found Catholics and Protestants at odds maybe 50 years ago.
Top it off with a conversation I had with a friend that even just 10 years ago, you would not have found the degree of closed mindedness you would find today — a degradation of culture and lack of edcuation which argues “I believe what I believe and nothing you say can change that” — and you can see where this leads. ?Two people, same language, different meanings, different ideologies and therefore, it is argued, different realities.
Can it be bridged? ?Is there such a thing as one reality for you, one for me? ?Pope Francis seems to think such notions are absurd, and that yes — differences can indeed be bridged:
There also exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out. There has to be continuous dialogue between the two, lest ideas become detached from realities. It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone, of images and rhetoric. So a third principle comes into play: realities are greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.
Ideas ? conceptual elaborations ? are at the service of communication, understanding, and praxis. Ideas disconnected from realities give rise to ineffectual forms of idealism and nominalism, capable at most of classifying and defining, but certainly not calling to action. What calls us to action are realities illuminated by reason. Formal nominalism has to give way to harmonious objectivity. Otherwise, the truth is manipulated, cosmetics take the place of real care for our bodies. We have politicians ? and even religious leaders ? who wonder why people do not understand and follow them, since their proposals are so clear and logical. Perhaps it is because they are stuck in the realm of pure ideas and end up reducing politics or faith to rhetoric. Others have left simplicity behind and have imported a rationality foreign to most people.
Realities are greater than ideas. This principle has to do with incarnation of the word and its being put into practice: ?By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is from God? (1 Jn 4:2). The principle of reality, of a word already made flesh and constantly striving to take flesh anew, is essential to evangelization. It helps us to see that the Church?s history is a history of salvation, to be mindful of those saints who inculturated the Gospel in the life of our peoples and to reap the fruits of the Church?s rich bimillennial tradition, without pretending to come up with a system of thought detached from this treasury, as if we wanted to reinvent the Gospel. At the same time, this principle impels us to put the word into practice, to perform works of justice and charity which make that word fruitful. Not to put the word into practice, not to make it reality, is to build on sand, to remain in the realm of pure ideas and to end up in a lifeless and unfruitful self-centredness and gnosticism.
Short version? ?It’s tough to see Christ on an empty stomach.
There is a rather beautiful play on the tension between globalization and localization, and the catholicity of the Church in para. 236:
Here our model is not the sphere, which is no greater than its parts, where every point is equidistant from the centre, and there are no differences between them. Instead, it is the polyhedron, which reflects the convergence of all its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness. Pastoral and political activity alike seek to gather in this polyhedron the best of each. There is a place for the poor and their culture, their aspirations and their potential. Even people who can be considered dubious on account of their errors have something to offer which must not be overlooked. It is the convergence of peoples who, within the universal order, maintain their own individuality; it is the sum total of persons within a society which pursues the common good, which truly has a place for everyone.
Paras 238 thru 258 reflect on ecumenism and it’s role in the Catholic Church. ?I will not elaborate on them here other than to say that Pope Francis extends upon his example of Christian encounter, and in para. 255 speaks in terms relevant for the American experience today:
The Synod Fathers spoke of the importance of respect for religious freedom, viewed as a fundamental human right. This includes ?the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one?s beliefs in public?. A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual?s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism. The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions. In the long run, this would feed resentment rather than tolerance and peace.
PRESCRIPTIONS FOR A MODERNIST SOCIETY
Pope Francis opens it best in para. 260:
In this final chapter, I do not intend to offer a synthesis of Christian spirituality, or to explore great themes like prayer, Eucharistic adoration or the liturgical celebration of the faith. For all these we already have valuable texts of the magisterium and celebrated writings by great authors. I do not claim to replace or improve upon these treasures. I simply wish to offer some thoughts about the spirit of the new evangelization.
…and he is true to his word. ?And lest one think that Pope Francis has fallen victim to this over-philosophization of Catholicism, read here about the importance of Christ to this pope in para. 264:
The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known? If we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts. We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence. Standing before him with open hearts, letting him look at us, we see that gaze of love which Nathaniel glimpsed on the day when Jesus said to him: ?I saw you under the fig tree? (Jn 1:48). How good it is to stand before a crucifix, or on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply to be in his presence! How much good it does us when he once more touches our lives and impels us to share his new life! What then happens is that ?we speak of what we have seen and heard? (1 Jn 1:3). The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart. If we approach it in this way, its beauty will amaze and constantly excite us. But if this is to come about, we need to recover a contemplative spirit which can help us to realize ever anew that we have been entrusted with a treasure which makes us more human and helps us to lead a new life. There is nothing more precious which we can give to others.
Pope Francis is a man very much in love with Jesus Christ,?to “seek what he seeks and we love what he loves” (para. 267).
Christ loved the poor, we should do likewise.
Christ gave to the poor, we should do likewise.
Christ gave of himself to the poor, we should do likewise.
Christ gave of himself to the point of death, we should do likewise.
Christ was born again, we should hope to join Him.
para. 270: ?It’s often said that the Catholic Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. ?Pope Francis reminds us:
Sometimes we are tempted to be that kind of Christian who keeps the Lord?s wounds at arm?s length. Yet Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others. He hopes that we will stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune and instead enter into the reality of other people?s lives and know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated and we experience intensely what it is to be a people, to be part of a people.
Pope Francis explains himself in a rather personal note in para. 273:
My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an ?extra? or just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing. All around us we begin to see nurses with soul, teachers with soul, politicians with soul, people who have chosen deep down to be with others and for others. But once we separate our work from our private lives, everything turns grey and we will always be seeking recognition or asserting our needs. We stop being a people.
This is a Pope Francis very distant from the media caricature that we seem to have endured these nine months. ?Joy is a part of this man’s soul, part of his character, and that joy is deeply connected — in fact, caused — by his encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ. ?To ask him to separate that from himself seems inconceivable. ?So it is with Catholic nurses, Catholic teachers, Catholic politicians, etc. Faith informs our character, and character informs who we are. ?Check that at the door, and everything indeed turns “grey” very quickly.
para. 279: ?Pope Francis spoke of acedia once before. ?Perhaps it is the illness of the modern age? ?But like any good doctor, Francis is quick with the prescription… and perhaps the cure:
Because we do not always see these seeds growing, we need an interior certainty, a conviction that God is able to act in every situation, even amid apparent setbacks: ?we have this treasure in earthen vessels? (2 Cor 4:7). This certainty is often called ?a sense of mystery?. It involves knowing with certitude that all those who entrust themselves to God in love will bear good fruit (cf. Jn 15:5). This fruitfulness is often invisible, elusive and unquantifiable. We can know quite well that our lives will be fruitful, without claiming to know how, or where, or when. We may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others. No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force. Sometimes it seems that our work is fruitless, but mission is not like a business transaction or investment, or even a humanitarian activity. It is not a show where we count how many people come as a result of our publicity; it is something much deeper, which escapes all measurement. It may be that the Lord uses our sacrifices to shower blessings in another part of the world which we will never visit. The Holy Spirit works as he wills, when he wills and where he wills; we entrust ourselves without pretending to see striking results. We know only that our commitment is necessary. Let us learn to rest in the tenderness of the arms of the Father amid our creative and generous commitment. Let us keep marching forward; let us give him everything, allowing him to make our efforts bear fruit in his good time.
Finally, Pope Francis ends with an intercessory prayer to St. Mary, who interceded for humanity by answering the call of St. Gabriel and intercedes today:
Mary, Virgin and Mother,
you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,
welcomed the word of life
in the depths of your humble faith:
as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,
help us to say our own ?yes?
to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,
to proclaim the good news of Jesus.
Filled with Christ?s presence,
you brought joy to John the Baptist,
making him exult in the womb of his mother.
Brimming over with joy,
you sang of the great things done by God.
Standing at the foot of the cross
with unyielding faith,
you received the joyful comfort of the resurrection,
and joined the disciples in awaiting the Spirit
so that the evangelizing Church might be born.
Obtain for us now a new ardour born of the resurrection,
that we may bring to all the Gospel of life
which triumphs over death.
Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,
that the gift of unfading beauty
may reach every man and woman.
Virgin of listening and contemplation,
Mother of love, Bride of the eternal wedding feast,
pray for the Church, whose pure icon you are,
that she may never be closed in on herself
or lose her passion for establishing God?s kingdom.
Star of the new evangelisation,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.
Mother of the living Gospel,
wellspring of happiness for God?s little ones,
pray for us.
* * *
Pope Francis is not a pope for those used to the styles of Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI, nor will Francis be the pope many progressives were desperately hoping for in some sort of unfaithful adaptation of Pope John XXIII. ?Instead, Pope Francis is proving to be very much in keeping with his namesakes — St. Francis of Assisi and St. Francis Xavier.
Evangelii Gaudium?will undoubtedly continue to spur greater insight than what I was able to perform on a Sunday afternoon. ?Nevertheless, the call to re-missionize our Catholic parishes and commit more deeply to our treatment of the poor, both those who are materially and spiritually deficient, and to overcome our own sense of acedia in the face of political religions remains very real. ?What Pope Francis has proven to be is not a “liberation theologian” in disguise, nor is he an arch-conservative general presiding over a defeated army. ?He is private in a victorious one, and he is looking for new enlistees.
The uniforms could use some help, though.