Pope Francis’ much-anticipated apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, does not disappoint. It is an incredible work that is full of good advice for both families and church leaders, delivered with theological richness and pastoral sensitivity. Do read the whole thing if you can.
A lot has already been written on many of the key elements of the document, but what struck me while reading it is how clearly Pope Francis connects family concerns with social concerns. He argues that families are only able to flourish if our societies are set up to support them.
This approach called to mind a great quote by St. John Paul II, who said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Part of Pope Francis’ emphasis in Amoris Laetitia could be summed up by flipping that idea around: As society goes, so goes the family. They are complementary ideas.
Here are ten quotes from the exhortation that connect particular social issues and our call to work for justice to family life. I’ve listed them by theme, and include each quote’s paragraph number in brackets.
1. Dignity of Work
Labour also makes possible the development of society and provides for the sustenance, stability and fruitfulness of one’s family: “May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children’s children!” (Ps 128:5-6)….This having been said, we can appreciate the suffering created by unemployment and the lack of steady work, as reflected in the Book of Ruth, Jesus’ own parable of the labourers forced to stand idly in the town square (Mt 20:1-16), and his personal experience of meeting people suffering from poverty and hunger. Sadly, these realities are present in many countries today, where the lack of employment opportunities takes its toll on the serenity of family life. [24-25]
2. Care for Creation
Nor can we overlook the social degeneration brought about by sin, as, for example, when human beings tyrannize nature, selfishly and even brutally ravaging it. This leads to the desertification of the earth (cf. Gen 3:17-19) and those social and economic imbalances denounced by the prophets, beginning with Elijah (cf. 1 Kg 21) and culminating in Jesus’ own words against injustice (cf. Lk 12:13; 16:1-31). 
3. Affordable Housing
The lack of dignified or affordable housing often leads to the postponement of formal relationships. It should be kept in mind that “the family has the right to decent housing, fitting for family life and commensurate to the number of the members, in a physical environment that provides the basic services for the life of the family and the community”. Families and homes go together. This makes us see how important it is to insist on the rights of the family and not only those of individuals… At times families suffer terribly when, faced with the illness of a loved one, they lack access to adequate health care, or struggle to find dignified employment. 
4. Forced Migration
Furthermore, forced migration of families, resulting from situations of war, persecution, poverty and injustice, and marked by the vicissitudes of a journey that often puts lives at risk, traumatizes people and destabilizes families. 
The problems faced by poor households are often all the more trying. For example, if a single mother has to raise a child by herself and needs to leave the child alone at home while she goes to work, the child can grow up exposed to all kind of risks and obstacles to personal growth. In such difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance, rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy. 
6. Women’s Rights
In this brief overview, I would like to stress the fact that, even though significant advances have been made in the recognition of women’s rights and their participation in public life, in some countries much remains to be done to promote these rights…The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union. I think of the reprehensible genital mutilation of women practiced in some cultures, but also of their lack of equal access to dignified work and roles of decision-making. 
7. Protecting the Unborn
Here I feel it urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed. So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the “property” of another human being. 
Families should not see themselves as a refuge from society, but instead go forth from their homes in a spirit of solidarity with others. In this way, they become a hub for integrating persons into society and a point of contact between the public and private spheres. Married couples should have a clear awareness of their social obligations. With this, their affection does not diminish but is flooded with new light. As the poet says:
“Your hands are my caress,
The harmony that fills my days.
I love you because your hands
Work for justice.
If I love you, it is because you are
My love, my companion and my all,
And on the street, side by side,
We are much more than just two”. 
9. The Family as a School of Mercy
“The family is thus an agent of pastoral activity through its explicit proclamation of the Gospel and its legacy of varied forms of witness, namely solidarity with the poor, openness to a diversity of people, the protection of creation, moral and material solidarity with other families, including those most in need, commitment to the promotion of the common good and the transformation of unjust social structures, beginning in the territory in which the family lives, through the practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy”. [310; quoting the Synod Fathers]
10. The Family as Transformer of the World
When a family is welcoming and reaches out to others, especially the poor and the neglected, it is “a symbol, witness and participant in the Church’s motherhood”. Social love, as a reflection of the Trinity, is what truly unifies the spiritual meaning of the family and its mission to others, for it makes present the kerygma in all its communal imperatives. The family lives its spirituality precisely by being at one and the same time a domestic church and a vital cell for transforming the world. 
A lot has already been written about Laudato Si’: On Care of Our Common Home, Pope Francis’ new encyclical on ecology. Most reactions have focused on the politics, the economics, or the science in it — all good, important perspectives. But the document is truly beautiful. There are passages that made me stop in my tracks and savor. As the writer Austen Ivereigh puts it:
Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement who spent most of her life with the poor, loved the Dostoevsky quote, “Beauty will save the world.” She saw immense suffering and injustice, and a devotion to the beautiful was her response. If you see and acknowledge beauty in something or someone, it becomes awfully difficult see haphazard destruction of creation and people and do nothing.
Pope Francis’ call for a renewed sense of wonder at the miracle of creation is a key ingredient the Church can offer to the ecological conversation, and to make that appeal with such rich language heightens the call’s potency.
Here are five of the encyclical’s most beautiful passages.
1) St. Francis of Assisi’s love of creation is a great example.
Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever [St. Francis] would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason.” (no. 11)
Fall in love with the Earth, this gift of pure abundance that God has freely given us. This disposition cannot be written off as “naive romanticism,” Pope Francis writes, “for it affects the choices which determine our behavior.” If we lose our wonder and awe, our attitude toward the Earth will be that of “masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on [our] immediate needs.”
2) We must listen for two cries.
Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. (no. 50)
Humans are designed to feel compassion when they hear someone crying. The exterior expression of pain or sadness has an interior effect on the other. We don’t hear crying, though, if plug our ears and put our heads under a pillow. “When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities,” Pope Francis writes (no. 117), “it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.” As Jesus put it, whoever has ears ought to hear.
3) To grow your own care for the earth and for the poor, get in touch with your inner child.
The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God. The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good. Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors in the neighborhood square; going back to these places is a chance to recover something of their true selves. (no. 84)
Places form us. When we forget our intimate connection to place, we take it for granted, and the move to exploitation is not far off.
4) Take the long view.
Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others…the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. (no. 159)
Taking the long view, what’s best for me right now might not line up with what’s best for all of us for centuries to come. If we see the planet as a gift — gift we have received and gift we will pass on — we can develop gratitude. And gratitude is the best tool for breaking down self-centeredness.
5) Simplify, simplify, simplify.
In reality, those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the look-out for what they do not have. They experience what it means to appreciate each person and each thing, learning familiarity with the simplest things and how to enjoy them. So they are able to shed unsatisfied needs, reducing their obsessiveness and weariness. Even living on little, they can live a lot, above all when they cultivate other pleasures and find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer. Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer. (no. 223)
Simplicity is not a superficial reduction of stuff, but what Pope Francis calls “an attitude of the heart” (no. 226), one which “is capable of being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full.” At the center of Laudato Si’ is this call to conversion: individual, communal, and global conversion, opening our hearts to the fire of God’s love for the world. Beauty is the first spark.
If you use social media, you’ve probably taken a BuzzFeed quiz. (Or 20.)
If you haven’t participated, the gist is simple: you answer a series of multiple choice questions on a particular topic (choose a color, pick a relaxing activity, etc.) and the popular website BuzzFeed will tell you which Bill Murray character you are, or what you should eat for lunch, or what decade you actually belong in. You share your answer on Facebook.
Recently, I’ve noticed a spike in these quizzes’ popularity among my Catholic Facebook friends. Two in particular have been everywhere: “Which One Of Jesus’ Disciples Are You?” and “Which Biblical Heroine Are You?”
Unsurprisingly, the same BuzzFeed reporter, Ellie Hall, is behind both quizzes, bringing a dash of religion into the world of viral web content.
What goes in to writing one of your religion-themed BuzzFeed quizzes? Could you describe the process?
It’s always tricky! I tend to spend at least 2 or 3 days thinking about the possible results and coming up with the questions and answers. I reread Bible and Torah passages that mention the men and women in question and try to get a sense about their personalities and how they’ve been portrayed throughout history. It sounds silly considering that I’m making a quiz, but I try to be as accurate as possible. For example, in the “Which Biblical Heroine Are You?” quiz, I made sure that the “Pick a Flower” question included all the flowers that have been traditionally associated with each woman. So Esther’s flower was a myrtle, a nod to her birth name, Hadassah. Overall, I just try to be thoughtful and make a smart quiz that I would want to take.
They stand out among the “What Muppet are you?”-style quizzes, and they always go viral among my Catholic Facebook friends. Why do you think they’ve gotten such an energetic response?
I think it’s really fun to put the men and women that we’ve heard stories about in church and Sunday School since we were little into a modern context, which is what I’m trying to do with these quizzes. I also think people are surprised to see a site like BuzzFeed publishing fun religious-themed content! But why not, if we do it the right way? It’s really amazing to see so many people enjoying them.
You’ve also written a few things about Pope Francis, who continues to dominate the media. What about him do you think draws people in?
I think that Pope Francis is very good at demonstrating the qualities that people associate with the best of Catholicism and religion in general. He seems approachable and humble — characteristics that aren’t usually associated with parish priests as opposed to the head of the Church. I think that’s the main reason why people, not just the media, love him.
Speaking of Pope Francis: If he took the “Which one of Jesus’ disciples are you?” quiz, who do you think he’d get, and why?
Ha! I think he’d probably get St. John. He has a very warm and comforting presence and I could easily see him having a lot in common with the “Beloved Disciple.”
If the Vatican brought you in as a media consultant, what advice would you give them?
I think I’d encourage them to branch out a little more on social media and interact more with their followers. Not through the @pontifex account, obviously, but maybe set up a few more Twitter accounts and a Facebook page that shows more behind-the-scenes moments from the Vatican. “Open Doors.” I’d want to call it something like “Open Doors.VA” and have an internet-savvy team that would interact with people and show a different side of the Holy See. Humanize it, a bit. Demystify it. I don’t know, but I’d really like to see more of the spontaneous moments that have made Pope Francis such a media darling.
Another day, another fantastic message from Pope Francis.
January 1 is the World Day of Peace, and each year, the Pope releases a (relatively) short document on a particular peace-related theme.
For 2014, Pope Francis focuses on the idea of one human family in a message called “Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace.”
He reflects on how commitment to the intimate, familial relationship that connects all people is essential for peace to grow.
Fraternity is an essential human quality, for we are relational beings. A lively awareness of our relatedness helps us to look upon and to treat each person as a true sister or brother; without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace.
Our sister and brotherhood comes from the teachings of Jesus, who tells his followers, “For you have only one Father, who is God, and you are all brothers and sisters” (cf. Mt 23:8-9).
Pope Francis writes, “The basis of fraternity is found in God’s fatherhood. We are not speaking of a generic fatherhood, indistinct and historically ineffectual, but rather of the specific and extraordinarily concrete personal love of God for each man and woman (cf. Mt 6:25-30).”
This is a radical tenet of Christianity. While we build barriers between us, separating our family, our community, our religion, our country from others, the belief that humanity shares one father makes us all a literal family.
If we truly believe this, then it has profound implications for how we live as individuals and as communities. Pope Francis writes:
In Christ, the other is welcomed and loved as a son or daughter of God, as a brother or sister, not as a stranger, much less as a rival or even an enemy. In God’s family, where all are sons and daughters of the same Father, and, because they are grafted to Christ, sons and daughters in the Son, there are no “disposable lives”. All men and women enjoy an equal and inviolable dignity. All are loved by God. All have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, who died on the Cross and rose for all. This is the reason why no one can remain indifferent before the lot of our brothers and sisters.
We seem to value some lives less than others in our societies. It’s tempting to ignore the marginalization of those who are poor, the unborn, immigrants, and the homeless, for example, because solutions are difficult. But what if a biological relative was poor or homeless? What kind of urgent care would we show then? This type of self-giving love, reaching out to all, is what Christian faith demands of us.
Pope Francis describes the roll that nations and governments have to work for solidarity, social justice, and true charity among themselves, resisting war in favor of “dialogue, pardon and reconciliation, in order to rebuild justice, trust, and hope around you!”
But he also calls individual Christians to practice simple living, a form of fraternity “that must be at the basis of all others.” He writes:
Finally, there is yet another form of promoting fraternity[…]It is the detachment of those who choose to live a sober and essential lifestyle, of those who, by sharing their own wealth, thus manage to experience fraternal communion with others. This is fundamental for following Jesus Christ and being truly Christian. It is not only the case of consecrated persons who profess the vow of poverty, but also of the many families and responsible citizens who firmly believe that it is their fraternal relationship with their neighbours which constitutes their most precious good.
This Advent and Christmas seasons, we have the chance to renew our commitment to our human family. Here are some practical ways to invest in our fraternal relationship with our neighbors, “our most precious good”:
- Instead of exchanging gifts with someone this Christmas, agree to donate the funds instead to an organization helping people to lift themselves out of poverty. Consider supporting CRS’ relief and rebuilding work in the Philippines.
- Spend some time learning about the challenges so many of our sisters and brothers face. Get a couple people together and stream the documentary “A Place at the Table” on Netflix, which explores the crisis of hunger in the US. Discuss it afterward.
- Find an agency near you that (1) depends on volunteers to help it run, and (2) provides you with the opportunity to get to know people who are marginalized. Soup kitchens and nursing home activities departments are two good places to start.
- Lobby your elected leaders to fight hunger by participating in Catholic advocacy efforts online.
- Remember the example of another Francis, St. Francis of Assisi, by praying the prayer named for him. A friend of mine once wondered how your life would be different if you prayed this every day for a whole month. Why not try it?
- Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
- Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
- Where there is injury, pardon;
- Where there is error, truth;
- Where there is doubt, faith;
- Where there is despair, hope;
- Where there is darkness, light;
- And where there is sadness, joy.
- O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
- To be consoled as to console;
- To be understood as to understand;
- To be loved as to love.
- For it is in giving that we receive;
- It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
- And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
There are over a billion Catholics on Earth. Imagine how the world might change if we all just did something small to respond to Pope Francis’ message. There’s no reason not to try.
The Internet is buzzing today with the release of Pope Francis’ first apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). It is a wide-ranging letter that covers scores of elements of discipleship. You (and I) really should read the whole thing.
Fr. Jim Martin, SJ, who did read the whole thing, is pumped up:
You can read his insightful analysis on his Facebook page.
There are so many themes that demand our reflection and response, but here on this Life & Justice blog, I’d like to point out a few passages that show how, for Pope Francis, a concern for the poor and vulnerable is an essential element of spreading the Gospel. As disciples, our commitment to protecting life at all stages and working to change systemic injustices is not marginal or optional. He writes in paragraph 201 (emphasis mine here and throughout):
No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles. While it is quite true that the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel, none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice: “Spiritual conversion, the intensity of the love of God and neighbour, zeal for justice and peace, the Gospel meaning of the poor and of poverty, are required of everyone”.
Starting in paragraph 52, Pope Francis lays out challenges to evangelization and discipleship today. The headings he uses are, “No to an economy of exclusion,” “No to the new idolatry of money,” “No to a financial system which rules rather than serves,” and “No to the inequality which spawns violence.”
Pope Francis writes on the violence of income inequality, and rejects libertarian economics:
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.
Here, Pope Francis is not writing about individual or communal acts of charity, as important as they are. Instead, he is emphasizing the Catholic teaching that governments are responsible for helping to correct social structures that perpetuate injustice:
The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of its urgency for the good order of society, but because society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises. Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses. As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.
Pope Francis criticizes “trickle-down theories” of economics that assume that the unregulated economy will bring about greater justice in the world. Instead of people serving as cogs in an economy that will naturally take care of everyone, Pope Francis writes we must regulate our economies to assure they promote the good of all.
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 [political leaders] to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.
Pope Francis also targets social libertarianism. The “me-first” individualism that enables laissez-faire economics also leads to a marginalization of the unborn. He writes in paragraph 213:
Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this.
Catholicism’s assertion that every single human being is the beautiful creation of God leads the Church to a consistent life ethic you just can’t find in any political party today. Pope Francis draws a clear connection between the protection of the poor and the protection of the unborn:
Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.
Why, for Pope Francis, is working for a more just society such an important part of faith? Because for him, faith draws us out from “narrowness and self-absorption” (paragraph 8), into an encounter with Christ found in our sisters and brothers.
In paragraph 183, he writes:
An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses.
In our own journeys of discipleship, may our love for this magnificent planet and our human family grow ever stronger, and may God give us the grace to make the world closer to how He wants it to be.
During his visit to the diocese last week, Jack Jezreel of JustFaith Ministries sat down with me for a conversation about St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis, and how their examples can inspire us today.
Listen for Jack’s four examples of how Pope Francis is living St. Francis’ legacy. (Closeness with those who are poor, simple living, care for creation, interfaith understanding.)
The first extensive interview with Pope Francis since his election was published today in several Jesuit journals, including America here in the US. It’s long but great; read the whole thing. A quick scan led me to a few fantastic justice-related quotes. Here are five.
Discernment is always done in the presence of the Lord, looking at the signs, listening to the things that happen, the feeling of the people, especially the poor.
When we make important decisions as a church and as a society, we should be in touch with how those decisions will affect those who are the most vulnerable.
“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.
A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.
Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of going to the edges of society and welcoming people in to the church community. And his powerful call to “always consider the person” emphasizes the dignity of every child of God, no matter what.
The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
This quote is Pope Francis’ response to critics who say he has not talked enough about abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. He clearly believes in the Church teachings on these important areas, but that it’s important to lead instead with the basics. How in our own lives might we live the joy and love of the Gospel without going right to the hot-button issues first? Our relationship with Christ — as individuals and as a community — is primary, and the “moral consequences” flow from that relationship.
The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.
Because of our belief in the equal dignity of every human person, we must be sure that groups that have been historically marginalized in the Church are welcomed and empowered. The last line of this quote is so important: “The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.” How might we empower women in our parishes to take on leadership roles?
When it comes to social issues, it is one thing to have a meeting to study the problem of drugs in a slum neighborhood and quite another thing to go there, live there and understand the problem from the inside and study it. There is a brilliant letter by Father Arrupe to the Centers for Social Research and Action on poverty, in which he says clearly that one cannot speak of poverty if one does not experience poverty, with a direct connection to the places in which there is poverty.
Pope Francis again calls us to go to the edges. We cannot speak of poverty if we have not made a “direct connection” to places where poverty exists. Our faith sends us out from our churches and places of comfort to accompany those who are forgotten and oppressed.
When Pope Francis called for a day of Fasting and Prayer for peace in Syria, many Catholic outlets pulled together prayer services and resources (including this blog). But why are we called to pray AND fast this Saturday?
In 2009, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio issued a Lenten message to the Archdiocese of Buenos Aries all about fasting. His ideas then shed light on his request for fasting now:
In his Lenten message, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, said amidst the atmosphere of “sadness” on display in the streets of Argentina with so many going hungry and in poverty, the Lenten fast is a way of expressing “solidarity with those who fast involuntarily” and helps people overcome indifference.
In a press release about the message, the cardinal said the reality of “men and women begging or going through trash, the elderly sleeping on street corners, kids sleeping on top of subway vents to stay warm” no longer “shocks us.”
“We show no interest in their lives, their stories, their needs or their future. How many times did their pleading looks made us look the other way and walk by. When we get used to something we also become indifferent,” he warned.
Cardinal Berglogio called on the faithful to observe the Lenten fast as “God desires,” that is, “giving bread to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, clothing to the naked, and not turning our backs on our neighbor.”
“Today we need to fast by working so that others don’t have to fast. Today we can only practice fasting by taking of the pain and powerlessness of the millions who go hungry. Whoever does not fast for the poor cheats God. To fast is to love,” he said.
Our fasting this Saturday is a powerful way to stand with those who “fast involuntarily” in Syria, who are going without safety, shelter, peace, and more.
One of the most powerful themes of Pope Francis’ pontificate has been the importance of working for social justice. His emphasis on Catholic Social Teaching has continued at World Youth Day this week — he seems to talk about it at every public appearance. Here are five fantastic quotes from his visit to Rio so far:
I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity! No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world! Everybody, according to his or her particular opportunities and responsibilities, should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices. The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world: it is the culture of solidarity that does so, seeing others not as rivals or statistics, but brothers and sisters.
The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty.
We do not judge our progress based on how the wealthiest are doing. Instead, we evaluate our greatness by observing how the most vulnerable are fairing. And then, whenever we see deficiencies, we are called to respond in faith.
Calling on Christians to be “lights of hope,” Francis said it’s important for believers to keep “a positive outlook on reality,” conscious that despite the frustrations and “many idols” of the modern world, God always has “the upper hand.”
Young people, the pope said, have a special need for “nonmaterial values, which are the spiritual heart of a people, the memory of a people.”
Among those values, Francis said, are “spirituality, generosity, solidarity, perseverance, fraternity and joy” — values, he said, “whose deepest root is the Christian faith.”
In this quote, Pope Francis articulates the spiritual element of all faith-based work for justice. Being in touch with these “nonmaterial values” gives workers for justice energy, and prevents us from seeing ourselves as the saviors or fixers of the world’s problems.
“I want to tell you something. What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses!” he said, speaking off the cuff in his native Spanish. “I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!”
Pope Francis emphasizes here how important it is that our parishes and dioceses send us out to the margins, to bring the good news of God’s love to all people. Let’s make a holy mess.
In every suffering brother and sister that we embrace, we embrace the suffering Body of Christ.
While speaking to those battling addiction, Pope Francis asserted that he and the Church are called to spend intimate time with those who are suffering. Whenever it would be easier to turn away from pain, our faith demands our attentiveness.
Pope Francis released the fantastic new encyclical letter “Lumen Fidei” (“Light of Faith”) on Friday, which Pope Benedict started before his resignation this past winter. Encyclicals are the most important form of papal teaching, and comprise much of the vast body of our Catholic social tradition.
Here is a collection of some of the quotes from the encyclical, by paragraph, which demonstrate how loving care for human life and commitment to social justice are essential parts of our faith as Christians. A brief reflection follows each quote.
No. 17: Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises…Christians, on the contrary, profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
God is here and now at work among us as much as God has ever been anywhere. How easily even we believers can forget that. It’s our job to let God’s always-available love inspire us to make that love visible in the world through our lives.
No. 22: Faith is necessarily ecclesial; it is professed from within the body of Christ as a concrete communion of believers. It is against this ecclesial backdrop that faith opens the individual Christian towards all others.
Our faith must be lived out in community.We are social creatures made to be in relationship with God and others. Commitment to the communal life leads us to notice and care about the needs of others.
No. 46: The Decalogue [Ten Commandments] is not a set of negative commands, but concrete directions for emerging from the desert of the selfish and self-enclosed ego in order to enter into dialogue with God, to be embraced by his mercy and then to bring that mercy to others.
We don’t have commandments and doctrines and dogmas as Christians because we really like rules. We have them because to believe in God comes with responsibilities and real-world implications. Faith cannot just be words or beliefs without action, but must reach out to others, especially to those in need.
No. 51: Precisely because it is linked to love (cf. Gal 5:6), the light of faith is concretely placed at the service of justice, law and peace.
Christian love, rooted in faith, is not just found in affections of the heart, but also in an action of hands.
No. 52: The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family…Faith also helps us to grasp in all its depth and richness the begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person. So it was that Sarah, by faith, became a mother, for she trusted in God’s fidelity to his promise (cf. Heb 11:11).
A pre-born child is not a choice or a burden, but a miracle that a family and community are called to embrace.
No. 54: The boundless love of our Father also comes to us, in Jesus, through our brothers and sisters. Faith teaches us to see that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters.
This reminds me of a great Dorothy Day quote: “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”
No. 54: Thanks to faith we have come to understand the unique dignity of each person, something which was not clearly seen in antiquity…At the heart of biblical faith is God’s love, his concrete concern for every person, and his plan of salvation which embraces all of humanity and all creation, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without insight into these realities, there is no criterion for discerning what makes human life precious and unique.
Our faith that each human is a unique, beautiful creation of God is the bedrock of Catholic social teaching. We don’t work to protect life and promote justice because of some vague philanthropic concern. We do it because in each person, we find the face of God.
No. 55: Faith, on the other hand, by revealing the love of God the Creator, enables us to respect nature all the more, and to discern in it a grammar written by the hand of God and a dwelling place entrusted to our protection and care. Faith also helps us to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted; it teaches us to create just forms of government, in the realization that authority comes from God and is meant for the service of the common good.
There are two important points in this passage. First, the Earth is a gift from God to us, and it’s our job to take care of it by conserving natural resources and taking meaningful action to combat climate change, for instance. Second, faith calls us to build societies and economies that serve the common good. We do not judge our success based on how the wealthy are doing, but how the most poor and vulnerable are treated.
No. 57: Nor does the light of faith make us forget the sufferings of this world…Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light.
Our God is compassion, and calls us to be compassionate: literally, to “suffer with” those who are hurting. It’s so difficult to see another suffering and to go toward that pain. It’s much easier to put blinders on and to turn away. But faith demands movement toward those who are lonely and forgotten.
Thank you, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, for this wonderful gift that enlivens our faith and sends us out to bring God’s love to others.