I love this passage so much. It makes me chuckle, because it’s so dead-on, and it’s not couched in airy-fairy language. “Irksome,” indeed! That’s a dead-on assessment of the reaction these concerns usually get. People are irked at having to think about them.
This whole section of Evangelii Gaudium is talking about economic systems and the need to make sure they are truly equitable and provide for the poor. It’s a procession of plain-speaking, conscience-pricking paragraphs: welfare should be considered a temporary solution, the dignity of the human person should shape all economic policy, inequality is the root of social ill, we can’t trust the market to do this work, and on and on. It’s so good. Take time to read it!
First of all, let me just say I recognize how challenging this quote is. This idea stands 100% in opposition to our American cultural values.
However, if we are citizens of Heaven first and America second–as should be the case for all who call ourselves Catholic–then we have to accept the challenge in these words.
Interestingly, they are *not* Pope Francis’ words. They are the words of Pope Paul VI (he of Humane Vitae fame) from an apostolic letter called “Octogesima Adveniens,” dating from May 1971. I haven’t read the whole letter, but this is the full paragraph Pope Francis quoted from:
Through the statement of the rights of man and the seeking for international agreements for the application of these rights, progress has been made towards inscribing these two aspirations in deeds and structures (16). Nevertheless various forms of discrimination continually reappear – ethnic cultural, religious, political and so on. In fact, human rights are still too often disregarded, if not scoffed at, or else they receive only formal recognition. In many cases legislation does not keep up with real situations. Legislation is necessary, but it is not sufficient for setting up true relationships of justice and equity. In teaching us charity, the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others. If, beyond legal rules, there is really no deeper feeling of respect for and service to others, then even equality before the law can serve as an alibi for flagrant discrimination, continued exploitation and actual contempt. Without a renewed education in solidarity, an overemphasis of equality can give rise to an individualism in which each one claims his own rights without wishing to be answerable for the common good.Pope Paul VI, Octegesima Adveniens, #23
There’s so much to unpack in that. “Legislation is necessary, but it is not sufficient for setting up true relationships of justice and equity.” Legislation, in other words, needs to happen, but we have to go beyond it.
And “renouncing rights” means what? Perhaps we could read that as a call to be less tax-averse. Perhaps we could read it as a call to be less inclined to hoard, judging others as unworthy, requiring them to prove they don’t need what we have to offer before we’re willing to give it to them.
“A renewed education in solidarity…” Solidarity is a word a lot of us associate with Lech Walesa, but it’s something we’re all called to–to enter into the pain of others, to make it our own. (Read Shannon Evans’ book Embracing Weakness. She broke open solidarity for me in a way I still haven’t figured out how to incorporate into my real life.)
“individualism in which each one claims his own rights without wishing to be answerable for the common good.” That one explains itself.
A lot to think about here! Because again, we’re recognizing that evangelization is not narrowly defined as walking around talking to anything with a heartbeat about Jesus Christ. Evangelization is something that encompasses all of real life. Because who will listen to us when we talk, if our view is so narrow we can’t see the forest for the trees?
This reminds me of Teresa of Avila saying, “God has no hands but yours…”
There’s a tension in modern life between prayer and action. Many of us have gotten jaded about invoking prayer because so often, “thoughts and prayers” seem a pretty poor substitute for action. God doesn’t come down and magically change things; we have to do the work. God works through us. Prayer isn’t about changing God’s mind–it’s about changing us.
Yet sometimes there truly is nothing we, in our human limitations, can figure out to do, other than pray. Pray for peace of mind, for acceptance, for grace to bear what we cannot take away.
More often, though, there are things we can do–they just require effort. We have to advocate publicly, but that presupposes that we’re willing to educate ourselves on the complexities of situations. We have to be willing to look at the world through someone else’s eyes and accept that the way the world works for us–which fundamentally shapes our vision of what is and is not possible–is not the way the world works for others. (Remember this quote?)
I like how he says it’s never entirely “comfortable.” A desire to change the world definitely invites discomfort!
Today I will let the context of the quote above, in which Pope Francis is explaining what he means by “accompaniment,” stand on its own:
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”.Evangelii Gaudium, #171
The interesting thing is that the section of Evangelii Gaudium from which I drew both yesterday’s and today’s posts is addressed to preachers. Yet both days resonate really strongly with me as a lay person. I’m guilty of this… are you?
A while back, I talked about the difference between viewing sin as “tripping on the way up the mountain” and viewing it as a sign of total, unredeemable depravity. I like seeing this quote from Evangelii Gaudium. It’s the same idea, only a pope said it. 🙂
It’s such a relief to take these words in and let them spread out like salve on a blistered soul. The more scrupulous we are about our faith, the more we think the slightest misstep is going to doom us forever. Even our best intentions can trip us up. It’s so freeing to realize we don’t have to bear the burden of perfection–we’re just supposed to keep trying to be better than yesterday.
And it’s also a reminder that the grace given to me, to still have a place in the race even though I’m not perfect, is a grace I can offer to others as well. I can give them the benefit of the doubt and think of them in charity, assuming that they are working at holiness the same as I am.
Depending on who I apply that to, that’s the really hard part.
Every so often a meme goes around Facebook that riles up Christians about public prayer and religious freedom. It’s not always the same one, but the idea is the same: we Christians are persecuted, we should rise up and demand that America act like the Christian nation it is.
The problem is, America is not a Christian nation. Many of America’s first immigrants came here to escape religious persecution. That persecution was very much on the minds of those who set up the system of government. They structured America specifically so that nobody’s faith would get to knock down anyone else’s. Everyone gets the chance to worship as they see fit. Whether we as Godly people like it or not, that also means freedom FROM religion. Not having publicly-sanctioned prayer is not persecution. It’s simply a recognition that we are a nation built on religious liberty. No one’s prayer can be imposed on all.
We as Christians may not like that idea, but this is what makes America great. Because in fact, it’s a system that mirrors God’s own heart.
As the saying goes, God is a gentleman. He doesn’t force himself on us. When has it ever gone well for us to try to force him on others? The Crusades. The Inquisition. The suppression of native cultures. Every time we try to force God on others, we end up gravely sinning in His name.
Our job is to do as God does: invite.
Instead, I would argue that much of what we as Christians display publicly is not inviting at all. Inviting could mean different things in different situations, but surely the fundamental quality of one who invites is a joyful heart. A heart so welcoming and kind and compassionate and peaceful in spirit that others say, “Hey, I want some of that. How do I get it?”
Instead, so often we Christians display anger, resentment, bitterness, judgment, and attitudes of exclusion when faced with those in crisis situations. We focus on our own preferences and emotional comfort while turning a blind eye to inconvenient facts—like the fact that if my free expression of religion requires the suppression of someone else’s free expression of religion, then it really isn’t religious freedom at all.
Like the fact that if we were truly a Christian nation, we wouldn’t be looking for ways to avoid helping our neighbors in desperate need. (“Who is my neighbor?”) Like the fact that a truly Christian nation would prioritize making sure all its citizens have health care and equal opportunity in education. Would prioritize support for the poor, recognizing that poverty, lack of opportunity and inequality are factors that undercut our ability to build a holistic culture of life.
When we turn a blind eye to these realities (which admittedly are hard, complicated to navigate, and resist neat and tidy solutions) and instead let ourselves be manipulated into outrage over something that’s really not a threat at all, we damage our ability to evangelize. We alienate those we are meant to invite.
This section is speaking to those who prepare homilies, but it resonates for me, too.