Sorry, but somehow I missed how Pope Francis has signed on to the Democratic Party platform. Or the Republican one.
But you might think so from the mainstream media's commentary about the pope's disquisition, Evangelii Gaudium.
Allow me, as a Roman Catholic who is decidedly conservative on social issues and decidedly less so on libertarian-run-amok theories on economic issues, to cast my own light on the document. For me, Francis' message is a renewal of evangelism, a call to Catholics to pursue with new passion and energy Christ's gospel message.
Francis clearly emphasized, as Catholic teachings have for centuries, Christ's gospel of comfort, forgiveness, nourishment and glad tidings. For some secular commentators, it's as if they've heard for the first time the church's message on theBeatitudes and the good Samaritan. Ignorant about the church's rich teachings on social justice, they sneer, "It's about time the church start giving a damn about the poor." In this, I hear not just ignorance, but a tinge of anti-Catholicism.
The first major written work of his papacy is a pastoral and religious document. But it has been excessively viewed as a political manifesto, to be spun, shredded and stood on its head as the observer's political proclivities and biases would have it.
Economic liberals have greeted the pope's attack on unfettered capitalism as a repudiation of Reaganomics, though Francis has created a straw man in his assault on the Adam Smith brand of unregulated capitalism. It's not practiced in America, nor is it found in the Republican Party's platform. (Yes, Catholics can disagree with the pope on economic matters.)
Conservatives, for their part, liked his defense of the principle of subsidiarity (decentralization) and of the sanctity of marriage and traditional family values. Liberals liked his call for inclusiveness. Conservatives loved his criticism of pro-choice progressives when the document says: "It is not 'progressive' to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life."
But let's sideline the political ideology and just accept Francis' exhortation for what it is — an affirmation of jubilation in the Lord. He opens the document with this simple declaration: "The Joy of the Gospels (translation: Evangelii Gaudium) fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew."
Pardon me for filling this secular space with words of faith, but if you are going to comment on the pope's counsel, you at least should give him the respect of addressing the message that he means to impart.
The thing is 224 pages long, not meant to be discerned, understood or appreciated in a couple of readings. In it, I encountered meanings I and many Catholics had to look up, such as "kerygma." (It is the overwhelming and ardent decision to entrust yourself to Christ through faith.)
Paul Griffiths, a Duke University Divinity School professor, called Francis' thoughts "a piece with the tone and substance of his papacy so far. It is warm, enthusiastic and welcoming; it focuses on the central truth of Christianity, which is the redemptive gift of love to the world."
Don't be a sourpuss, Francis enjoins. Yep, that's what he said: "One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, sourpusses."
He urges Catholics to talk more about grace than the law; more about "faith working through love." He admonishes his own church for being too preoccupied with strictures and structures, noting that the church is not a "tollhouse," but a place for everyone to bring their problems to the Father.
Unchanging truths need to be addressed in a language that brings out their abiding newness, he says, at once reminding traditionalists of the need to face vast cultural and technological changes while reminding church reformers that truths do indeed exist.
There is a fervor to this document that reminds me of the fresh breeze that blew through the church a half century ago when Pope John XXIII threw open the windows to renewal. John, like Francis, emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit in joyful evangelization. In calling for the Second Vatican Council, John resisted declaring new orthodoxies, but emphasized the role of love, mercy and faith. In this, Francis continues and re-energizes John's work.
This column first appeared in the Chicago Tribune
Related and recommended: "The Joy of Evangelism," by Father Robert Barron, founder of the global ministry, Word on Fire, and the Rector/President of Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein Illinois.
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