Friday, January 16, 2015

Entry 28: Getting to know Frank

                                         Me chilling out with a cardboard version of Pope Frank    

More than a year ago, I embarked on this journey that was meant to take me through all of this beautiful document. Today, I find myself humbled, as I`m no nowhere near even the halfway mark of Evangelii Gaudium. Nevertheless, I remain joyful of the fact that I have been able to deepen my understanding of Pope Francis a little more through this exercise. One thing that has stood out for me about him throughout this past year,is that he`s not interested in criticizing the world as we know it.  This means, he’s not likely to dismiss the world as sinful as so many Christians are prone to do. In fact, quite the opposite, like most pontiffs before him, he celebrates the culture and diversity of our world, and embraces many expressions of authentic life found in it. What he criticizes, are structures within it that lead it people astray. More specifically,  he criticizes this attitude within capitalism that allows the market economy  "to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits." ( EG 56) He even goes as far as to say that this attitude which puts greed before the well-being of others, is an obvious rejection of ethics, and worse, a rejection of God. ( EG 57)

  As I discussed in the previous entry, it’s obvious that such statements have not won  friends for Francis among many Catholics who eagerly participate in this economic system, and see no conflict between it and their Christian faith. But here, we see  another quality of Francis that shines through: he is unafraid to speak his mind, even if his candor will ‘offend’  some of his fellow Catholics. What's important to understand, is that  he does not do this to offend, but to challenge. He’s inviting us to take a good look at the world we live in and operate in, and to ask hard questions like ‘how do our actions or attitudes, remove us from God? What can we –either individually or collectively- do to restore that bond with God, and with others?’

  Despite the fact that these are important questions to ask, many of the pope's critics will probably continue to argue that when it comes to his understanding of the economy, he is rather naïve, disconnected from what they see as 'the reality of our world'. This would be especially true when they hear him demand the economic system "return to an ethical approach which favors human beings" (EG 58). For in their eyes, the culture of profit and wealth is king, and has little use for that pesky little voice that speaks to them about morals or ethics in their conscience, a voice that they see as being counterproductive (EG 57) to the 'greater good' of the market economy culture. In short, a moralistic and ethical voice is one that becomes like a voice crying out in the wilderness of modern times, a voice that ‘condemns…the debasement ‘of people, and leads us back to God, who transcends the categories created by the marketplace (nay, the whole world) (57). Ethics is in fact, the very tool that can help us ‘restore that bond with God,’ first in our lives, then in our culture, and finally, in our world.

( Source

 This reflection on the role that ethics could play in our world, brings me to one  final characteristic of Pope Francis that has marked me in this past year: As we've just seen, he’s not afraid to challenge anyone. And he doesn't limit himself to those involved in unethical business practices. Those of you who listen to his daily homilies will notice that most of his challenges are addressed to individual Christians( Christians that are too sad, that gossip too much, that are not concerned enough about the plight of others, that forget how joyful following Jesus truly can be, that focus too much on securing influential positions for themselves etc…) His message to the universal Church is quite simple: "the changes you want to see in the Church, must begin with you, in the way you live out your relationship with God and with others." 

    Of course, what has made Pope Francis catch the attention of so many in our world is his propensity to question  the injustices in our world, and challenge those who have power in our world (i.e. politicians) to stand up to those injustices and help remove them. Like many of his predecessors, he realizes that  if you can influence those in power, you can have a positive impact on the world as a whole. This is why Francis urges, pokes and prods the leaders of the world reminding them that money exists not to rule, but to serve people (EG 58). Likewise, the Pope also addresses the rich (who are often leaders in their own way), reminding them that they too are loved by the Holy Father, but that he will spend more time  encouraging them to  help, respect and promote the poor. And no...this is not a message intended only for the rich. All of us, who claim to be inspired by the Pope, are asked to live out this care of the poor as well as he does.In his addresses and exhortations to the faithful, he reminds us that we should not allow this idea so central to our faith remain just an idea. We need to ensure that it is central to our life as well. And I feel that as long as these wonderful ideas of care for the other, and concern for those who suffer are not lived out more fully by the faithful, this Pope will continue laboring to teach the faithful, and the entire world, that our care for those who suffer is the most authentic expression of Christian life.  May his words and wisdom continue to inspire our own journey 
towards a faith that is authentically lived.

No to a financial system which rules rather than serves
57. Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside of the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement. Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “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”.[55]

58. A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Entry 27: Francis Vs the idolatry of money


Wednesday, October 22nd

It’s been a while since I’ve put any effort into writing, but I am motivated to continue, especially with the first part of the  Synod of the Family that has just come to  a close with the dramatic address the Pope this past weekend. While it became clear during the week that many in the Church still have problems with what has been said and done during this Synod, others are calling this proceedings of the past two weeks as revolutionary for the Church, and are eager to see the direction in which this Synod  will be heading next year. What has become obvious after this experience, is Pope Francis’ desire: It’s clear that he’s not interested in undermining the tradition  or the doctrines of our faith; neither is he interested in keeping things the way they are just because some of the faithful, or some of the Church leaders don’t like change.He seems bent on earnestly trying to strike a common ground between  the more conservative elements of the  Church, and the more liberal ones. A tall order for any pontiff!

 Another striking detail of the work of the Synod in the past few weeks was to hear how many times Evangelii Gaudium was quoted. The principle reason for this I believe, is that the main goal of this Synod was to reflect on how to make the Church more pastoral towards families and couples living divorces.Evangelii Gaudium turned out to be a brilliant guideline for those pastoral investigations the Church wanted to undertake. Again, many will disagree with this and argue  ‘the Church is already pastoral’.  This complacency and desire for the status quo is exactly what Francis is speaking out against in EG. It's almost as if he's asking " If we think we’re already being pastoral enough, then we’re not challenging ourselves anymore, are we?"

 Of course, as I’ve explored in previous entries, challenging us is exactly what Francis does in this exhortation, and he does so at many levels. Up to this point in, it seems that  Francis has been specific about the challenges of the world,  but perhaps not as specific about his (challenging!) criticism towards capitalism, speaking in broad terms about how the quest and desire (and greed) for wealth has caused much injustice in our world. In this section, he tries to go a little deeper into that statement by openly criticizing trickle down economic theories (This idea that economic benefits “provided to businesses and upper income levels (people) will benefit poorer members of society by improving the economy as a whole” (Source: Wikipedia)). Many will even go as far as to say that it this economic theory “can generate an economic growth that will inevitably bring greater justice…in the world” (EG 54) It’s a lovely idea, and probably one that does work effectively in certain parts of the world. However, as Francis points out, while the economy makes the rich richer, “the excluded and marginalized are still waiting” ( EG 54)  

 As I’ve expressed before in this blog, much of what Francis is saying is echoed  by many in the world. More and more groups today are raising their voices against the injustices that they claim are caused by the system, and against what Francis calls, the”globalization of indifference”. Indeed, many are realizing that what threatens our world more than anything else, is that indifference towards others, towards action, towards the greater good.  But standing up and saying something is unfair is not the same as feeling compassion for those who suffer, and acting upon that compassion. This is why Francis suggests that when we feel the pain of others,  attending to their needs becomes our responsibility. Unfortunately, the culture we live in (a culture of prosperity) leads us to a contrary path of apathy that deadens us. (E.G. 54)

 That the society is apathetic is nothing new for most people. But we don`t always explore the causes of that apathy. Sure, it`s easy to just blame it on a ‘generational thing’, or to accept it as a norm of our modern society, but this does not explain why so many people simply don`t care about the suffering of others. Francis tries to explain that apathy by looking at our relationship with money (E.G 55). Again, he is channeling an attitude that is very common today, especially among some younger people in the West who are angry at the fact that  they are  part of a culture that uses the poverty of others to build up wealth for a select few. Francis of course goes a little further than that: –he usually does!- He suggests that  our obsession with money ( he calls it the idol of our society)  has lead our market economy to deny the primacy of the human person in order to ensure a sound profit,  reducing human beings to their basic needs of consumption and nothing more. (Ibid)

   If the wealth  (the idolatry of money) was at least well balanced and shared, I think Francis and anyone who criticizes the system would become strong proponents of it. What seems to be happening in our world is the opposite: The minority grows richer and stronger, and the majority poor are more and more removed from that prosperity and the security it  brings (EG 56)  From that point on, the Pope goes into a territory that I said I’d try to avoid, but to ensure my faithfulness to his ideas, I’ll try to follow him down the rabbit road of economic theory! :  Francis believes that the imbalance in our world, that growing gap between rich and poor, is “the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation” (EG 56).  That autonomy  appears to be important. The less government control there is, the more an economy can thrive. The problem that Francis sees is that, the more autonomy the market has, the less governments can regulate its activities, and protect the right of its citizens against the system. What then happens is that  “ A new tyranny is born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules”. I think I’ll pull myself out of this mess before I go to deep into a domain of knowledge that is too foreign to me to even attempt an analysis. I'll only stay close to Francis' argument by saying that his biggest problem with the system is that he sees it as beingtoo powerful. "It  tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits" (56) and so long as jobs are created, our leaders don't seem to mind that the environment, and the safety and protection of working people and  of the poor are second in importance to the vitality of the economy. This indeed does not seem like the kind of message that would be read with great attentiveness by world leaders, but this won't stop Francis from saying what he feels needs to be said!
More to come!!

54. 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 naïve 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.
55. 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.
56. 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.d” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Entry 26: No(!!!!!) to a culture of exclusion.

                              one of the many responses to the poor and marginalized  in the world.                                                                            

Pope Francis continues his work of discussing the challenges that humanity faces in  this age . The tendency that some of our world leaders have, is to celebrate the scientific accomplishments of humanity in many fields, while avoiding to discuss the impact that this progress could have( and is having) on  the world. After all, when progress boosts a nation’s economy, and greatly improves the lives and work of many, it becomes more difficult for our leaders to be objective about progress. Thankfully, it’s different with Popes. Following the example of his predecessors, Pope Francis is eager to celebrate the creativity and ingenuity behind the advancements humanity is capable of, but he remains free enough to contemplate the inequality in our world that persists despite the progress we has seen. This is especially disturbing when we consider that the majority of the earth’s population is ‘barely living from day to day, with dire consequences’  (EG 52). What strikes me the most is the way he describes the consequences of this injustice and how it affects our world: we find in many people  that ‘the joy of living frequently fades,  (and they) respect each other less, (while) violence is on the rise…(EG 52). I found that striking because it’s a statement that applies to most parts of the world. Not just in the Middle East and Africa with the rise of groups like IS and Boko Haram, but also in the West, where I feel that respect for the other has diminished more and more over the years. What matters is how much power one can obtain, and not how much love and respect are we willing to give to others. 
These are significant words, because the changes he’s speaking of are indeed shaping every aspect of our world and of this generation ( he describes them as epochal!).  The changes must be embraced, but the challenges that they bring must also be recognized and responded to.  This may seem like a sensible middle ground between the Occupy people and staunch defenders of capitalism, but as you well know, he’s just getting warmed up!

The very next section is introduced with a bold statement that got many people talking:

No to an economy of exclusion

No exclamation points, no dramatic font…just a simple statement: No, we should not agree to being part of an economy that excludes people. Does our capitalist economy consciously do this? Many who have openly disagreed with the pope clearly don’t think so. Many people concerned with social justice today seem to think it does.  As I stated in my previous entry, I’m not comfortable enough in my knowledge of the market to really speak about this. All I can do is reflect on the words Francis offers us, and try to find an answer to some of his questions. In this case, his question is a poignant one: "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure (to cold), but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” ( EG 53)

The answer some may give is that the market dropping affects thousands of people, whereas the death of one individual does not. This is a very rational and, pragmatic response. But it’s not one that reflects an authentic humanity. On the contrary, it is very much against the radical love and respect for human life that our faith instills within us. When people are dying anonymously on the streets, when people go starving in our own cities while restaurants  throw away copious amounts of food on a daily basis, it’s outrage, not indifference that should fill our hearts.  

But it’s not the  widespread indifference that bothers Francis the most: It’s the economy that is driven by a Darwinian mentality of  the survival of the fittest. It’s a system that works because it forces competition, and inspires creativity from corporations.  The problem is that, in recent decades, we have seen how far will people go to remain competitive. We have seen how easy it is for a corporation to deny and trample  over the basic fundamental needs of others in order to secure their competitive edge. In this environment,  human beings become a consumer good to be used and discarded (EG 53).  As horrific as that is,  Francis continues by saying it’s come to the point in our world that we’re not even talking about just exclusion or oppression anymore, but something  new: It’s as if, the disenfranchised don’t even exist as part of the society anymore. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.   (EG53)                                                                        

Something tells me that this in fact is not so new, that we've been struggling with this phenomenon since the dawn of time.Perhaps what is new today is that an increasing amount of people in our world are considered as disenfranchised, and and a growing number of citizens are speaking out against the gap between haves and have nots in our world. But there is still so much work to do before this situation is rectified. In his every day acts and speeches, Pope Francis is already teaching and guiding us into an authentic response to this crisis. I look forward to continuing this foray into his thoughts on the challenges of our world!

52. 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.
53. 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”.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Entry 25. A study of the 2nd chapter of Evangelii Gaudium: Facing the challenges that lie ahead.


                              Pope Francis's tenderness shining through as he continues to remind us all that 
                              the answer to most of our world's problems  lies in  hope, faith, and love!!

 As I begin writing about Chapter II of Evangelii gaudium, I am a little intimidated by the task at hand. This is the chapter in which (among other things) the Pope’s views on the market economy and capitalism in general were pronounced. I have a minimal understanding of market economy theory, so it will be rather difficult for me to speak about his understanding of it. However, there was so  much attention given by the world at large to his comments that it will be impossible for me to avoid writing about it –no wonder I feel intimidated!!-. Back in December of 2013, it even seemed that everyone had a response to his ideas, with reactions to them ranging from utter anger and condemnation, to praise and adulation.

 Regardless of how the world has reacted to his words, we must remember that he was not criticizing capitalism just to please a certain segment of the population, or to challenge others. His desire continues to be focused on helping the Universal church take concrete steps towards becoming a better evangelizing entity. In his efforts to make that desire take flesh, he chooses to explore some of the challenges that could interfere with any positive steps the Church takes in becoming better at evangelizing. His reflection revolves around the idea of a ‘crisis of commitment’ that marks our world. The fact that he speaks of a crisis is powerful on its own, and is reflective of his deep hopes for the Church:  He knows that if the whole Universal Church was committed to serve others, the impact of the Church’s big heart would be felt on the entire world.  Knowing that this potential speaks about something that is authentic to our Church, he seems to wonder why is it that we’re not moving mountains with this big heart of ours.  This particular crisis he mentions addresses this issue rather well, which is why it's a theme that will be revisited in this chapter.

 However, in order to formally initiate his 2nd chapter, Pope Francis discusses another subject that many of his predecessors have spoken about:  ‘the context in which we all have to live and work’ (EG 50). In other words, in this chapter, he is also going to take a good long look at the world, and highlight some of the challenges to justice that we encounter in it . Francis begins by speaking of a tendency in our world of dealing with our social problems with  ‘diagnostic overload’, which is rarely accompanied by a solution to the problems (EG 50).It may be surprising for some to hear that the Pope is tired of too much analysis, not enough action. Indeed, the more I speak to people( especially non Catholics) about the exciting ideas I hear from the Vatican, the more I get the dismissive scoff, or the ‘ it’s all talk, no action’ response. After a few decades of scandals and corruption in the Church, such a response is to be expected. Nonetheless, it’s still a shame that people are so jaded towards the Vatican, because everything that this Pontiff has been doing so far suggests that he is not a man that will hide behind pretty theologies and ideas. On the contrary, he is someone who strives to draw nearer to Christ in his own every day life, by constantly seeking for the growth of love and the active blossoming of justice in our world. By exhorting  the Universal Church on a similar path, he's inviting Her to move away from “employing an allegedly neutral and clinical method” (50)  to tackle the challenges of our world, and to focus instead on the approach of a missionary disciple, (quoting JPII) “nourished by the light and strength of the Holy Spirit”. (EG 50) 

 No matter how genuine his intention, there are still many in this world who would argue that the Pope and the Church in general should focus strictly on spiritual matters, and not be so eager to comment on temporal/wordly ones.Though I disagree with this position, I can see why it's expressed, and  I can almost understand why many believe that the opinions of the Church on certain social matters should be ignored and even mocked. Nevertheless, seeing that we’re a Church that practices a living faith, a faith that interacts, engages (and argues!!) with the world, it’s impossible for us to be silent when it comes to any issues that touches the lives of the faithful. And yet…Pope Francis himself admits that it’s not up to the Pope to provide an in depth analysis of contemporary reality. (EG 51)  Instead of doing that, he will "consider briefly, and from a pastoral perspective, certain factors which can restrain or weaken the impulse of missionary renewal in the Church." (EG 51) He’ll also ‘exhort’/ encourage the faithful and people of good will to be more vigilant, especially towards those ‘signs of the times’ that Vatican II spoke of. Those signs are important for Francis. When the Church spoke of them in the 60’s, the signs were an invitation f+or the Church to open itself to a dialog with a changing world, and for Her to be aware of the changes in our world so that she could better respond to challenges of the 20th/21st century. When Pope Francis uses this phrase, he’s speaking about the need to notice to pay attention to the trends in our world, especially the negative ones which, if  they go unnoticed, could “ set of processes of dehumanization (in our world), which would be later hard to reverse “ (EG 51)

 What he’s inviting us to may sound esoteric but there’s also something deeply simple about this exhortation to respond to signs that we see in our world. All he’s asking us to do is to discern more carefully between good and bad in our world and in doing so, to always be looking to distinguish/discern clearly what might be the fruits of the kingdom (God’s plans, desires for the world), and what runs counter to those fruits. (EG 51)  This is something many Christians already do at some level or another when they try to discern how God is working in their life…now the Pope is asking us to do this at a larger scale. What's important about this process of learning to determine where the good and the bad movements are in our world, is that it will lead us to a state of positive action: Either we will eventually chose the movement that seems to come from the  'good spirit', or we will reject what comes from the evil one. (EG 51)  Like many out there, I've always thought choosing the good over evil was such a simple task. Francis makes us reflect on how deep the evil has infiltrated our personal lives, and how much work there is to do to clean up the spiritual path we walk along,from all the clutter that's accumulated over the years. A challenging task. An intimidating one perhaps,but not one  any Catholic should ever shy away from. 
 Forgive me for the extra long blog entry! Much to discuss!
Have a blessed week!

                                   CHAPTER TWO
50. 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”.[53]
51. 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”.[54] 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.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Entry 24: Blessed are the poor in Spirit


 To conclude the first chapter of this papal exhortation, Francis formulates his desires for the Church a little more strongly: What if, the  Universal Church were to take up this missionary impulse that is in us all? Can you imagine, this body of 1.2 billion people, going out to their friends,families and neighbors and encouraging them to receive the Word? This would be a great dream, but it's actually not what Pope Francis desires from us. Don't get me wrong, he wants everyone to receive the word, to be embraced by the loving arms of Mother Church. However, he also wants to remind us that, before we go to our families and friends,
we ought to go to those that Jesus went to first. No, not the fishermen and tax collectors, but " the poor...sick... those despised and overlooked."( EG 48) Those who will not repay our efforts ( Luke 14:14). Francis does not mince words on this:  He often speaks out against those who reduce our faith to a few ideological positions or even those who are Sunday Catholics that ignore the word of the Lord 6 days a week, but he proclaims with a loud voice that it is inconceivable that a Christian could ignore the poor, for the simple reason that there is a deep bond between our faith and the poor (EG 48). 

  This particular exhortation -the request that we begin our evangelization with the marginalized- may not be always well received in the Universal Church, but it makes sense. Our faith is not one that says 'go tell the good news to all people! Start with those you love most, and then make your way to others if you have the time'. Nor does it say 'go to those who have money so that they can contribute to your parishes and keep your community wealthy'.  It says: 'go forth'. And this is what we're exhorted to do here (EG 49), to know no limits to how far and wide we are willing to go to share the joy of the Gospel with others. To accept, as Francis has said again and again, that our invitation is to be a poor Church. Indeed, this is in fact what he would prefer to see: a Church that is "bruised, hurting, and dirty' by going out on the street, as opposed to the Church we often see in the West, one that is clinging to its own wealth and security (EG 49). 

The problems with wealthy churches should be self explanatory. As for ones that dwell in their own 'security', I suppose one could argue that in the end, there is nothing wrong with security. In fact the desire for it is profoundly human. The issue that Francis has is when people create a 'false security' in their faith, one where they are complacent with the status quo of our world that allows such a tremendous gap between the rich and the poor and almost encourages  our world to be indifferent to the plight of those who suffer around us. We should indeed be disturbed how many of our brothers and sisters around us live 'without strength, consolation born of friendship with Jesus..without community' (EG 49). Why is it that Pope Francis keeps reminding us of caring for them (much more than any of his predecessors, to be sure!)? Because he knows that many in parish communities around the world are caught up in a system of rules and habits that prevent them from being pastoral and caring Christians.  Because Jesus himself never tired of saying to us 'Give them something to eat'. There are many institutions out there that can help with feeding the poor, but it's up to us to be present and loving to them to spiritually nourish them.A tall order perhaps, but not one we should ever back down from.


48. If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, “the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel”,[52] and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that “there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor”. May we never abandon them.

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 people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Entry 23: Opening our hearts to the world

                                                            An Open heart, by Fania Simon 

To finish off Chapter 1 of EG, Francis continues his reflection on the missionary heart  (which he began in the previous section)  with a short new section that will reflect on what is an open heart. He is convinced that to have a missionary heart, one must also have an open heart (EG 46). In order to speak of this open heart, he uses the imagery of open doors a lot. With this image,it’s easy to understand that he means that the Church doors can’t be closed to anyone, and that all are welcome. But he eventually explains that there’s much more at stake here: It’s not just about having open doors to invite others into our Church.It’s about developing a true missionary heart that will remain open to others. A heart that will listen and be present to  those all people, especially those who have faltered along the way. (EG 46) He compares the missionary heart to to the prodigal son’s father who always kept the door open for his son to return and pass through his open door.(EG 46)

  While it's true we can’t forget the importance of having Church doors open to people either, (Eg 47) the reason why Francis focuses more on the openness of the doors of the  heart is because this is something we struggle with as Christians.  Yes, we’re a caring people that are open and loving towards everyone we meet …in theory!! We can’t overlook the fact that all too often, when Christians encounter someone whose lifestyle is built around principles and actions that are contrary to scriptures, we have a tendency of closing our hearts to them.This is a nicer way of saying that we don’t shy away from judging others and reacting in fear, or even hate towards them. 

Some Catholics  may argue “ …but we have to be the voice of morality in this immoral world, and as such, must not  hold back from openly challenging people who act against the precepts of God.’ Although an unpopular way of practicing one’s Christianity today, it is a valid option for many out there and a genuine reflection of a desire for a better world. However, Francis might challenge folks who believe this a little more. In a homily he gave last Monday   he reminded the faithful that we should pray for people who are do evil. We should not judge them.  Our job is not to pass judgment, but to love.

This is especially true in the Sacramental  life of our Church.  Our Sacraments are meant to be open for everyone to share and participate in.  As he says ‘ the doors of the sacraments shouldn’t be closed for… any reasons’. ( EG 47) Later in the same paragraph, he cites a quote attributed to St Ambrose, reminding us that the Eucharist and other sacraments are not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak  (EG 47) The common assumption among many Catholics these days is that such statements reflect our Pontiff’s desires to change how our Church currently deals with divorced people with respect to the Eucharist, in order to open the door for their involvement at the Eucharist. I myself am trying not to expect anything from our beloved Pope. He will lead the Church in the direction he feels the spirit is calling us, which means none of us can really ‘predict’ what will come next from Francis, but the mere fact that he is speaking of a Church which is  “the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (EG 47) should  be a sign that there are indeed exciting times ahead for this Church, if we are courageous enough to follow the lead of our pontiff!!

46. A Church which “goes forth” is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way. At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it.
47. The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door”: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.[51] These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Entry 22: Cultivating a missionary heart.


                                  Pope Francis breaking the regulations to confess himself before 
                                   another priest during the Easter season.

With the following two points in this document, Pope Francis brings to a close this section dedicated to the human limits that mark our faith journey. When I began my reflection on this section, I made some comments about how we sometimes see our sense of mission as an expression of our limitation, especially when we think that our sinful human nature is just too imperfect, too weak, to live up the call to live like a Saint or a true disciple (a reflection that highlights the fact that I know way too many people who share this struggle with me!!) I expected Pope Francis would eventually speak of the need to recognize our sense of limitation, along with our sense of potential, ensuring a balance between the two.  Turns out Francis was going somewhere completely different with this idea of our limitations.

  In the previous paragraph (EG 43) he introduced this idea that the precepts which do exist in the Church are not there to act as a burden upon the faithful, and if some of them have become burdensome to certain people, then perhaps we universally need to explore how valid these precepts are to the 21st century Church. He pursues this theme from a different angle in point 44, when he talks about the Catechism’s take on how a person’s  ‘responsibility’ for a certain sin is reduced, ‘and even nullified’ by many factors like fear, ignorance inordinate attachment and other things.

  Why introduce this point?  I believe that by quoting this line, he is addressing an important problem in the Church today:  There are many people of faith who are more quick to judge and label others as sinners, than to love them as sinners. This is an even bigger problem when such people are leaders in their parish communities, people who will end up accompanying others on their faith journeys.  Francis is actually addressing them here, as he asks them –he mentions especially priests, but let’s not kid ourselves…lay leaders need to hear this as well!!-to remember that sin, like many other things in Christian life, must be approached with mercy, patience and love. Imperfections are part of our growth, and they must be received as opportunity for this.(EG 44) However, the growth will not come so easily if the person’s sin is met with legality, with a judgmental voice.

 It’s his desire to make those who labor in the Church a little more pastoral that inspired him to compose one of the most amusing imageries in this document: Speaking to the priests who hear people’s confessions, he reminds them that ‘the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best’. There was a time when our Church was expected to put the fear of God in people, to remind them what it was like to be a sinner, humbled before God, terrified by his or her unworthiness to stand before the Almighty. This is not an incorrect image, but it’s one that has lost its ability to truly communicate the gentle, transformative love of God quietly at work in our lives. What’s important for Francis is that we put less emphasis on our unworthiness before God, and more focus on this realization that that even in the midst of our limitations, the baby steps we do take towards God are pleasing to Him.( EG 44)
This language is not always one that is appreciated by all in the Church. Many believe this kind of talk will take us on a blind path towards relativism, a path that will encourage us to  never condemn any evil we see in others, for fear of 'judging them’.  There's no doubt that this type of  relativist thinking must be avoided. We can't modify our beliefs  in order to better fit into our contemporary society, nor can we we ever be afraid to speak out against what we see as wrong in our world. However, as we've already seen, Francis is really challenging us by inviting the faithful away from a rigid understanding of scripture (and consequently, of morality) that would leave us closed minded to the needs and realities of others. It’s a difficult invitation because many Catholics would prefer the tough love approach where they get to challenge people to live more ‘perfectly’. However, perfection, as we see it, is not always possible. And to those who fail to live up to our standard of perfection, do we say that they are 'unworthy of hearing scripture', that they have no access to the goodness, truth and light that the Gospel brings us daily (EG 45)?  Of course not. Since Vatican II, no pope has ever said that this was the message of Christ. And yet, we still have pastors and lay leaders who excel more and shutting the door to people than  to being pastoral towards them.

  I believe this is why the new evangelization will be so important: Of course, the decreasing  number of people in our Churches is a factor that forces us to explore this question a little more effectively. However, a large part of our reflections should revolve not just around decreasing numbers in the Universal Church, but the cause of this decrease, which may have something to do with our own failures and limitations as a Church. That is why in the last paragraph of this section, Pope Francis reminds us once again of the importance of” growing in our understanding of the Gospel….and in the process, to develop a missionary heart: A heart that will be aware of its limits and make itself “weak with the weak... everything for everyone” (1 Cor 9:22)  A heart that is "not closed off, that never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness". (EG 45)

44. Moreover, pastors and the lay faithful who accompany their brothers and sisters in faith or on a journey of openness to God must always remember what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches quite clearly: “Imputability  and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors”.[49] Consequently, without detracting from the evangelical ideal, they need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur.[50] I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best. A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties. Everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings.

45. We see then that the task of evangelization operates within the limits of language and of circumstances. It constantly seeks to communicate more effectively the truth of the Gospel in a specific context, without renouncing the truth, the goodness and the light which it can bring whenever perfection is not possible. A missionary heart is aware of these limits and makes itself “weak with the weak... everything for everyone” (1 Cor 9:22). It never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness. It realizes that it has to grow in its own understanding of the Gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.