Tag Archives: solidarity

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).

Takin’ It to the Streets

16 Jan

Pope Francis5As we continue our tour of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”), we come to a chapter that clearly is close to the Holy Father’s heart. This chapter is entitled “The Social Dimension of Evangelization” (EG 176-258). He’s clearly very concerned about an impoverished if not distorted approach to evangelization that would downplay the social dimension of the Gospel (EG 176).

Today we will consider the Pope’s reflections on how the heart of the Gospel, or “kerygma,” necessarily has communal and social repercussions (EG 177-85). After all, according to the Holy Father, “the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others” (EG 177). This perspective clearly reflects the understanding that authentic faith cannot be separated from our life in the world.

Pope Francis remarkably notes that Christ has not only come to redeem individual persons, but also human relationships (EG 178). There is a profound connection in the Gospel between evangelization and human development. The Holy Father says that our “primary and fundamental response” to God’s love is “to desire, seek, and protect the good of others” (EG 178).

He then goes on to provide strong biblical support for the proposition that fraternal love must go hand in hand with our acceptance of the Gospel. For that reason, we can say that charity is a “constitutive element of the Church’s mission and an indispensable expression of her very being” (EG 179, quoting Pope Benedict XVI). The Church exists to evangelize, which means that the Church exists to radiate the love of Christ to the world, inviting all to a relationship with the living God.

The Holy Father urges us to avoid two extremes when it comes to the Gospel. On the one hand, he says the Gospel is not merely a “me and Jesus” proposition. On the other hand, it’s also not simply about doing random acts of kindness to make us feel good about ourselves. Rather, the Gospel is all about the Kingdom of God (EG 180)! Our very lives must bear witness to the reality that “the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). This kingdom encompasses every aspect of human existence, and it injects supernatural hope into human history (cf. EG 181).

From this perspective, we understand that the Church has so much meaning and depth to offer to everyone. For that reason, the Pope insists that faith cannot “be restricted to the private sphere” or seen as existing only “to prepare souls for heaven” (EG 182). God desires us to experience legitimate “enjoyment” (see 1 Timothy 6:17) in this life as a foretaste of the fullness of happiness prepared for us in heaven. Therefore, our conversion necessarily entails our commitment to work for the common good.

Further, faith cannot be considered an exclusively private matter such that it is excluded from our social lives (EG 183). Our faith impels us to seek to make a difference in the world and work for the just ordering of the society. The Pope insists that the Church cannot be relegated to the sidelines in the fight for justice, as her positive message has much to offer the world today.

Pope Francis readily admits that the apostolic exhortation is about evangelization, not the social doctrine of the Church. For the latter, the Pope heartily recommends the faithful to study the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, especially in light of the many grave social issues confronting the world today (EG 184). He also states the obvious fact that the Church does not have a “one size fits all” solution to the various complex issues we face today. While the Church articulates the operative principles, it is up to the local Church and communities to apply these principles to their unique circumstances.

The Pope ends this section by informing us that he is now going to take up two issues that he believes are most urgent and significant at this moment in human history: the inclusion of the poor in society, and the promotion of peace and social dialogue (EG 185). We will take up those issues in the next installment of this series.

We Are Family

29 Nov

Today in our series on the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), we turn to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). As the focus of Vatican II was on the nature, composition, and mission of the Church, it should come as no surprise that this document on the Church would be considered the central document of the Council. As we will see over the next couple posts in this series, Lumen Gentium has largely shaped our generation’s understanding of what it means to be “Church.”

Today I want to focus on what I consider to be one of the most significant passages from Lumen Gentium, taken from paragraph 9:

“At all times and in every race, anyone who fears God and does what is right has been acceptable to him (cf. Acts 10:35). He has, however, willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness.”

God does not desire to save us as isolated individuals, as if salvation were ever simply a “me and Jesus” thing. Rather, He desires to save us as His holy, beloved people (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9-10). This beautiful insight has led to “People of God” becoming one of the most popular titles or descriptions of the Church in recent decades.

Yet to modern ears “people” can sound a little generic and impersonal. Therefore, “People of God” can sound so big that our personal commitment to Christ and the irreplaceable value and contribution of the individual believer can seemingly get lost in the shuffle. That’s why I think there has been more of an emphasis in recent years on the Church as the “family of God.” It’s the same idea as the “People of God,” but in my opinion the word “family” captures the reality better for our culture, which sadly tends to think of the Church more as a bureaucracy than as a family.

The best analogy I can think of to describe our relationship to the Church is marriage. When Maureen married me, it definitely was—and is—a personal commitment. Yet, it has never been simply a “me and Leon” thing for her. Before I married her, she knew some members of my family, but she wasn’t a part of it. She was on the outside looking in. But when she married me, she didn’t just get a husband. My nephews and nieces became her nephews and nieces. My siblings became her siblings. My mother became her mother. She entered into the reality of my family. And then together with me, we have welcomed children and even a grandchild into our expanding family, which incidentally Vatican II called a “domestic Church.”

Similarly, when we are baptized, we not only become God’s children by adoption (cf. Gal. 4:4-7), but through what we call the “communion of saints,” we become part of a much larger familial reality known as the Church. We are united to our brothers and sisters in the Lord with ties that are stronger than flesh and blood–ties that will last for eternity. We are connected with those who have gone before us, but also with all our fellow Christians, with whom we share profound bonds of fraternity and solidarity. Because of the overflowing love and goodness of our supernatural family, we desire that all men and women may share this family unity with us (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14). That surely was at the heart of Christ’s prayer:

“I pray . . . that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn. 17:20-21).

So during this Year of Faith, as we seek to nourish and strengthen our faith, the Holy Father calls us to a greater awareness that our faith is necessarily ecclesial, which is Churchspeak for “familial.” The Church is not some faceless institution that gets in the way of our relationship with Christ, but rather is our home–our family–where we are always welcome, and where our faith is celebrated, lived, and shared.

Thanks be to God.

For more on the Church as “family of God,” check out the “Catholic for a Reason” series which I co-edited with Scott Hahn.

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!

Virtue on the Mount

10 May

In contemplating Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7), one section that has really struck me is the part known as the “Six Antitheses”–the series of six statements by Our Lord that begin “You have heard it said . . .” followed by “I say to you . . .” These curious statements are found in Matthew 5:21-48.

There are many ways of looking at this passage. What really strikes me is that Jesus, in coming to fulfill the law and not abolish it (Mt. 5:17), is having us move from mere adherence to negative moral rules and precepts (“thou shall not . . .”) to the cultivation of the opposite virtues. Jesus’ words do not contradict what the people have been taught all their lives, but rather gives the motive and–through the gift of the Holy Spirit–the power to strive for a holiness and righteousness that exceeds the mere observance of the law (cf. Mt. 5:20).

So, let me summarize the “Six Antitheses” from the viewpoint of virtue development:

(1) You have heard it said that you shall not kill. Our Lord tells us to foster the virtue of meekness.

(2) You have heard it said that you shall not commit adultery. Our Lord tells us to foster sexual purity and the virtue of chastity.

(3) You have heard it said that you shouldn’t divorce and remarry. Our Lord tells us to foster marital fidelity.

(4) You have heard it said that you shouldn’t take a false oath. Our Lord tells us to foster the virtue of honesty.

(5) You have heard it said: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Our Lord tells us to foster the virtues of forgiveness and generosity.

(6) You have heard it said: “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Our Lord tells us to foster the virtues of charity and solidarity with all, especially with those who are most difficult for us to love.

In other words, we are called to be perfect, as Our Heavenly Father is perfect (cf. Mt. 5:48). We’re not there yet, and we’ll never get there on our own, but with God all things are possible. He not only shows us the way to happiness in the Sermon on the Mount, but also gives us His very life in the sacraments so we can get there.