Tag Archives: economy

The Cry of the Poor

23 Jan

pope francis 6As mentioned in our last installment of our series on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”), the Holy Father believes that the inclusion of the poor in society is an urgent issue for the Church today. He therefore devotes an entire section of this document (EG 186-216) to this most significant topic.

Pope Francis begins by pointing to our faith in Jesus Christ, who was always close to the poor and outcast, as the basis for our concern for the most forgotten members of society (EG 186). He also quotes several Scripture passages that impel the people of God to hear the cry of the poor in our midst (EG 187). He emphasizes that compassion for the poor is not the concern of only a few, but rather flows from the grace working through the entire body of believers, leading us to think in terms of the good of others and the good of the wider community (EG 188).

What the Pope is calling for is an authentic solidarity that is not only open to the renewal of social structures, but even more to the renewal of our convictions and attitudes (EG 189). He speaks with particular force and urgency regarding the cry of entire peoples: “the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity” (EG 190). And the goal is not merely “dignified sustenance” for all, but their welfare and prosperity, which includes education, access to healthcare and, above all, employment (EG 192).

We hear the cry of the poor when we are moved by the suffering of others. This must elicit mercy from us (EG 193). “Blessed are the merciful, because they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). One concrete, biblical expression of mercy toward the poor is almsgiving (cf. Tobit 12:9; Sirach 3:30).

Pope Francis stresses that the Gospel is simple and clear when it comes to our responsibility to be just and merciful to the poor (EG 194). Doctrinal orthodoxy is of no avail if we don’t take to heart this teaching.

For St. Paul, the key criterion of a Christian’s authenticity is whether he remembers the poor (EG 195; cf. Galatians 2:10). The Pope challenges us to “remember” and not allow ourselves to become distracted by the consumerism that surrounds us (EG 196).

God has demonstrated a special love for the poor throughout salvation history, culminating in the coming of the Savior’s embrace of poverty (EG 197). The Church’s tradition bears witness to the fact that the “option for the poor” holds a place of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity. For that reason, the Pope declares “I want a Church which is poor and for the poor” (EG 198). In saying that, the Holy Father is not calling for mere activism, but for loving attentiveness and identification with the poor. When we don’t welcome the poor, the proclamation of the Gospel loses its compelling resonance (EG 199). The Pope also emphasizes that the preferential option for the poor includes spiritual care, which sometimes is lacking (EG 200), and that no one is exempt from the concern for social justice (EG 201).

Pope Francis then discusses the economy and the just distribution of resources. He calls inequality the root of society’s problems. While welfare programs provide temporary solutions, we must address the sources of inequality (EG 202). Clearly economic policies must be based on the dignity of the human person and the pursuit of the common good. We cannot be indifferent toward these concerns, nor can we exploit them through recourse to empty rhetoric (EG 203).

Gone are the days in which we can trust in the “invisible hand of the market” (EG 204). Rather, we must be intentional when it comes to bringing about necessary reform. Therefore, the Pope prays that Lord will grant us politicans who realize that charity is not only inter-personal, but also the principle that must govern our life in society (EG 205). He stresses the value of governments working together, as economic decisions in one part of the world have repercussions elsewhere (EG 206).

Pope Francis here returns to the Church community, and says that the Church has to do its part in reaching out to the poor in action, and not through “unproductive meetings and empty talk” (EG 207). The Holy Father uses strong language through must of the exhortation, which he acknowledges in EG 208, but he affirms his affection for all and his desire for the good of all apart from any personal or political interest.

In the last part of this section, Pope Francis says that since Jesus the Evangelizer identified with the vulnerable, so too must we in our apostolic outreach (EG 209). He then refers to several classes of people who are particularly vulnerable in our present-day circumstance. He mentions the homeless, addicts, refugees, the elderly, and many others. He mentions the particular challenge posed by migrants, noting that he is “the pastor of a Church without frontiers” (EG 210).

The Holy Father expresses particular love and concern for unborn children (EG 211). He says that “it is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life” (EG 212). In a very pastoral manner, he also affirms that the Church must do more to accompany women in difficult situations, such that abortion does not appear to be the best or only solution in those circumstances.

He concludes by affirming our role as stewards over all of creation (EG 215), and in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi calls us to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, as well as its inhabitants (EG 216).

Evangelical Discernment

4 Dec

Pope Francis 3In Chapter Two of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis provides the context for his discussion of evangelization in today’s world. His stated goal is to examine the “signs of the times” not from a sociological or quantitative perspective, but rather as part of an “evangelical discernment” (EG 50). What is the Holy Spirit saying to us at this time?

This discernment has two parts. First, he considers societal factors that can hinder the Church’s missionary outreach (EG 51). In a separate post, I will address the second part of the chapter, namely the challenges and temptations faced by pastoral workers.

The Holy Father begins his consideration of societal factors with a resounding criticism of what he calls an economy of “exclusion” and “inequality” (EG 53-54), where many people find themselves marginalized. He considers “trickle-down” economic theories and today’s “culture of prosperity” dehumanizing, such that we become incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.

He goes on to the related topic of the “idolatry of money” and “the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose” (EG 55).  His reference to ideologies that defend the “absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation” (EG 56) is hard to understand, because no reputable economist in our culture at least takes such an extreme view.  One also wonders what he makes of the opposite–and arguably more prevalent–problem of a government that is too controlling rather than laissez-faire.

But the Pope’s point here is evangelical, not political: a “deified market” in any form reduces man to a mere consumer, and reflects a rejection of God and the moral order (EG 57). He calls on the rich to “help, respect, and promote the poor” (EG 58), 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.”

The Holy Father also points out that just as goodness tends to spread, so too does the evil of exclusion and inequality, which makes for a violent world (EG 59). Sustainable, peaceful development is not possible unless we address the evil embedded in unjust social structures.

The Holy Father then turns to some cultural challenges to the new evangelization, noting that these can take the form of persecution and attacks on religious freedom as well as widespread indifference and relativism (EG 61). He says that “in many countries [later citing Africa and Asia] globalization has meant a hastened deterioration of their own cultural roots and the invasion of ways of thinking and acting . . . which are economically advanced but ethically debilitated” (EG 62). It surely makes one think about the devastating global effects of exporting America’s secularist and consumerist mentality.

The Pope also mentions other religious movements, from fundamentalist sects to others that promote spirituality without God. On the one hand, this seems to be filling a void in our materialist society, but it can also be a means of exploiting the poor and disenfranchised. Yet, Pope Francis unabashedly says that the Church must take much of the blame for their not turning to the Church instead:

“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” (EG 63).

Pope Francis says that the process of secularization tends to reduce the faith to the private and personal, leading to a steady increase in relativism (EG 64). Interestingly, in affirming the Church’s insistence on objective moral norms valid for everyone, the Holy Father cites a document by the U.S. Bishops regarding ministry to persons with same-sex attractions.

The Pope acknowledges that moral relativism, the widespread belief in the absolute rights of individuals to do as they please, and negative aspects of the media and entertainment industry are threatening traditional values, especially in the domain of marriage and family life (EG 62-64). The latter is experiencing “a profound cultural crisis” (EG 66), as marriage is now commonly viewed as “a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will” (EG 66).

All of this not only affects our ability to pass on the faith to our children, but it also tends to weaken and distort family bonds (EG 67) and our relationships with others. Despite all this, many still recognize the significant, ongoing contributions of the Church to the world (EG 65), including her steadfast intention to respect others, heal wounds, build bridges, and bear one another’s burdens (EG 67).

The Holy Father says it is imperative to evangelize cultures in order to inculturate the Gospel (EG 69). He describes the breakdown in the way the faith has been passed on to young people and what he calls an “exodus” toward other faith communities (EG 70). He identifies many of the causes:

  • a lack of opportunity for dialogue in families
  • the influence of the communications media
  • a relativistic subjectivism
  • unbridled consumerism which feeds the market
  • lack of pastoral care among the poor
  • the failure of our institutions to be welcoming
  • difficulty in [maintaining] the faith in a pluralistic religious landscape

He ends the section by discussing the unique challenges of evangelizing urban cultures (EG 71-75). He finds it curious that the fullness of human history is realized in a city, the new Jerusalem (cf. Revelation 21:1-4). We need to take a fresh look at finding possibilities for prayer and communion that would appeal to the rapidly changing lives of city dwellers. The Pope even calls modern cities “a privileged locus of the new evangelization” (EG 73).

The Pope concludes by noting that today houses and neighborhoods tend to be “built to isolate and protect rather than to connect and integrate” (EG 75). He wants so much more for our neighborhoods and for our Church, for Our Lord desires to pour out abundant life upon our cities (cf. John 10:10).

Statements from the U.S. Bishops and the Pope on Tomorrow’s Election

5 Nov

The Kansas Bishops:

http://www.kscathconf.org/election-2012/

Certain political issues place a special claim upon the Catholic conscience. These issues, where matters of intrinsic evil directly intersect with public policy, require unity from the Catholic faithful. Something is understood to be intrinsically evil if it is evil in and of itself, regardless of our motives or the circumstances. The Catholic faith requires Catholics to oppose abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the redefinition of marriage. These matters are not negotiable, for they contradict the natural law, available to everyone through human reasoning, and they violate unchanging and unchangeable Catholic moral principles.

The Catholic faith requires Catholics to oppose abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the redefinition of marriage.

While these issues are often adjudicated in the political arena, they are not, strictly speaking, “political issues.” Instead, they are fundamentally moral questions involving core Catholic teachings on what is right and what is wrong. Catholics who depart from Church teaching on these issues separate themselves from full communion with the Church.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput O.F.M. Cap. of Philadelphia:

http://www.catholicvote.org/discuss/index.php?p=36380

I certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion. I’m not a Republican and I’m not a Democrat. I’m registered as an independent, because I don’t think the church should be identified with one party or another. As an individual and voter I have deep personal concerns about any party that supports changing the definition of marriage, supports abortion in all circumstances, wants to restrict the traditional understanding of religious freedom. Those kinds of issues cause me a great deal of uneasiness.

http://www.hliworldwatch.org/?p=1898

I think many of the Democrats have [taken] Democrat Catholic votes for granted because they’ll go with them no matter what the Party position might be on abortion. That’s why the position of the Democrat Party has gotten worse, and worse, and worse as time goes on because Catholics haven’t abandoned them as they’ve moved in that direction. So we just have to be insistent on that Catholic identity takes precedence over everything. Continue reading

The Economy and the Election

1 Aug

This week The Leaven published “The Economy and the Election,”  the fourth in a series of reflections related to the upcoming election, offered by the leaders of the four dioceses in Kansas.

The purpose of this series of articles is not to tell us how to vote or to provide some sort of “voter’s guide.” Rather, as our teachers in the faith, the bishops are helping us to understand our role as Catholics in society, and what that means as we exercise the right and responsibility to vote in the upcoming election. As the most recent reflection makes clear, “The Church’s duty is to articulate principles; it is the duty of the lay faithful in their mission to renew the face of the earth to put those principles into action.”

While I think the document in its entirety is worth reading (it’s not that long, btw), we do well to consider the bishops’ conclusion:

“If the primary criteria in our evaluation of candidates for public office is, ‘Which person will help me get the biggest piece of the pie? (either because of their support for lower taxes or for programs that directly benefit me),’ we are failing to employ the principles of our Catholic social teaching. We end up adopting a politics of self-interest, not stewardship.

“In his 1961 inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy famously posed the question, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ Perhaps we can take this even further. Taking our cue from the saints, ask what you can do for your country, for your state, for your community, for your family. Ask what you can do for the poor and most vulnerable and needy in your midst. How you answer these questions should inform your vote.

“When you think in those terms, you become drawn to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which have always been part of our Catholic tradition. You will also become drawn to what Pope Benedict XVI has called the ‘market of gratuitousness,’ a culture governed by human solidarity, not the thirst for acquisition–a culture that looks first to the family, churches and the local community to provide for the needs of the poor and the vulnerable, and a culture that lives to serve and not be served (cf. Mt. 20:28).”

For those wishing to go deeper into the social teaching of the Church in preparation for the upcoming election, I recommend reading the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which is generally available at Catholic bookstores, and which can also be viewed online. It is a masterfully summary of the Church’s social teaching as it has developed over the past century. If you read just six or seven paragraphs per day, you will have read the entire volume before the election.

May we truly “think with the Church” and bring the Gospel to bear on the important issues we face in our community and in our world!

Has the Vatican Really Become the Chaplain for the Occupy Wall Street Movement?

28 Oct

Last week, the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP) issued what it called a “reflection” on the current state of world economic affairs. This reflection has stirred up some controversy, because the PCJP suggests that part of the solution might be to establish a global financial authority.  There has been some confusion among the faithful because the media has framed the story as a spiritual endorsement of the “Occupy” protests that have been taking place throughout the Western world.

So as the archdiocesan “social justice guy,” I thought I would take the time to actually read the 18-page document and give an overview of what the Vatican has said.

The document is entitled “Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority.” While I think this document bears careful reading as an application of Catholic social teaching to the current world economic crisis, Catholics need to know it is not a doctrinal statement that binds the conscience of the faithful.   Continue reading