There has been much sound and fury about the Pope’s recent statements. Between the interview he gave to Jesuit periodicals and his recent apostolic exhortation, he has given us a lot to chew on, and the media’s fascination with him has allowed his quotes to creep into the mainstream.
Plenty of folks have put words in Francis’ mouth or misinterpreted him, calling him a Marxist, accusing him of proposing bad economic policies, and in a few cases ridiculing his statements. One Fox News editorial made fun of him, painted him as “kowtowing”, and implied that he would be responsible for the downfall of the Church. That editorial, which I refuse to link to here, was written by one of my fellow Catholics.
I have found myself drowning in punditry and wanted to cut through the sound of the talking heads and identify what we should be focusing on.
The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.
This is from Francis’ interview, and it stuck with me so forcefully I wrote it on a note card and keep in on my desk.
I love rules and rubrics, I love guidelines and doctrine. The intricacies of the faith fascinate me, and I have always enjoyed tracing one of our “moral and religious imperatives” back to its source in history and theology.
Ultimately, these things have at their root God’s love. Even when they result in an apparent hurt, most of our rules are the ways that the community – past and present – has chosen to regulate behavior based on our beliefs about God and on what those beliefs about God reveal to us about human relationships.
When we can’t see that, or when we can’t communicate it, we need to take a step back and look at the greater picture of God’s love. The love of God is why this whole magnificent mess of a Church exists. It’s why Christ came into the world.
Of course this is dangerous, because there may be times when one’s conscience leads them to a different conclusion as to what the saving love of God asks of them. But I would venture that honest, informed, prayerful reflection more often leads people to thoughtful – if at times critical – fidelity than extreme dissent.
This love, then, leads us to share the Gospel, and at times to share the “moral and religious imperatives”. But the love must come first.
Francis expands on this idea in Evangelii Gaudium 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.
Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society….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”. – Evangelii Gaudium 187, 196, quoting Centisimus Annus
Yeah Francis! Stick it to those rich people! Oh wait, you’re talking to me? Me, typing away on one of my many electronic devices, sitting in a warm room, well fed, with a car in the parking lot and a closet full of clothes?
The message here, and throughout the exhortation, is that we should desire and strive for the liberation of the poor and oppressed because God desires the liberation of the poor and oppressed.
Honestly, I have no idea how to do this.
How many of us are trapped in a system that doesn’t show us any clear path to care for the poor – truly care for them, not just throw money at them. We are frightened to make connections with the individual indigent, and we are clueless on how to bust up the system that keeps us apart. It’s hard enough in our own country, never mind on a global scale.
We incarnate the duty of hearing the cry of the poor when we are deeply moved by the suffering of others. (193) But there must be more we can do than that.
I will offer the last two passages without comment. I think Francis is capable of speaking for himself.
How many wars take place within the people of God and in our different communities! In our neighbourhoods and in the workplace, how many wars are caused by envy and jealousy, even among Christians! Spiritual worldliness leads some Christians to war with other Christians who stand in the way of their quest for power, prestige, pleasure and economic security. Some are even no longer content to live as part of the greater Church community but stoke a spirit of exclusivity, creating an “inner circle”. Instead of belonging to the whole Church in all its rich variety, they belong to this or that group which thinks itself different or special. – Evangelii Gaudium 98
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-centered 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. – Evangelii Gaudium 208
What do you think has been Francis’ most important message?