CRUX posted a report yesterday about the “Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty” held at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and attended by President Barack Obama. Here are the opening paragraphs of the story:
When it comes to fighting poverty, President Barack Obama wants American Christians to act a lot more like Pope Francis.
Obama called Francis “transformative,” saying the pope’s “insistence” that fighting poverty be at the heart of the Christian life has made him a global icon.
“That emphasis is why he’s had such incredible appeal, including to young people all around the world, and I hope it’s a message everyone receives when he comes to visit,” Obama said Tuesday, referring to the pope’s September visit to the United States.
Yes, I’m sure that is the message—perhaps the only message—that the Obama administration wants young and old alike to hear when Pope Francis journeys to the States in September. I don’t know whether to be impressed by Obama’s overt attempt to write the grand media narrative months in advance or to be annoyed that the most anti-life, pro-abortion, anti-religious freedom, pro-secularist POTUS in the history of our nation is telling us how to be better Christians. (After all, who is he to judge?) On the face of it, that would be merely annoying; the problem is that Obama, like so many other secularist story shapers, misrepresents both the nature of Francis’ emphasis on addressing poverty and, implicitly, the Church’s long (as in ancient) tradition of helping the poor.
Is Francis, in fact, a “global icon” because he says fighting poverty is at the “heart of the Christian life”? I doubt it, if only because it’s both too convenient and it ignores that the Church has, from its very founding (and from its very Founder), had a deep love and concern for the poor. Why? There are many reasons, including justice and charity. But a very important one—always ignored in secular accounts of Francis’ remarks on the poor—is the deeply theological character of poverty, which is not presented as just the absence of material goods but as the freely chosen emptying of oneself for the life of another. No need to take my word for it; here is Francis in a 2013 address given two years ago on the Vigil of Pentecost:
Poverty for us Christians is not a sociological, philosophical or cultural category, no. It is theological. I might say this is the first category, because our God, the Son of God, abased himself, he made himself poor to walk along the road with us.
This is our poverty: the poverty of the flesh of Christ, the poverty that brought the Son of God to us through his Incarnation. A poor Church for the poor begins by reaching out to the flesh of Christ. If we reach out to the flesh of Christ, we begin to understand something, to understand what this poverty, the Lord’s poverty, actually is; and this is far from easy.
However there is one problem that can afflict Christians: the spirit of the world, the worldly spirit, spiritual worldliness. This leads to self-sufficiency, to living by the spirit of the world rather than by the spirit of Jesus. You asked the question: how should we live in order to address this crisis that affects public ethics, the model of development and politics? Since this is a crisis of man, a crisis that destroys man, it is a crisis that strips man of ethics. In public life, in politics, if there is no ethics, an ethics of reference, everything is possible and everything can be done. We see, moreover, whenever we read the newspapers, that the lack of ethics in public life does great harm to the whole of humanity.
I quote at length because it is a necessary corrective to the unrelenting politicization of poverty that we are subjected to by politicians and their gophers in the mainstream media. Also, Catholics should know better—but many do not. I addressed this at length in this August 2014 editorial, so I won’t belabor it here, save to repeat this remark:
Put simply, if the purpose of the Church is to care for the poor, then it means, logically, that the Church is a human institution oriented to temporal goals and purposes. This, it goes without saying, is what many people—including some Catholics—would prefer the Church to be. And those temporal goals, it follows, should be socially conscious and politically-correct, otherwise they are of no earthly value.
Francis, as I demonstrated, is having none of that, saying on one occasion,
“Mission is a paradigm of every Church institution; it is a paradigmatic attitude.” That mission is to evangelize and proclaim the Gospel, Francis noted, “to ensure that God’s grace may touch the heart of every man and of every woman and lead them to him.” And, he stated directly: “Furthermore, for every Christian, for the whole Church, this is not an optional mission it is not an optional mission, but essential.”
One of Francis’ most striking reflections on poverty is found in his 2014 Lenten Message, which contains two dozen references to “poverty” and is essentially a commentary on the admirable commercium: “By making himself poor, Jesus did not seek poverty for its own sake but, as Saint Paul says ‘that by his poverty you might become rich’. This is no mere play on words or a catch phrase. Rather, it sums up God’s logic, the logic of love, the logic of the incarnation and the cross.”
Ah, you say, that’s all very nice, but let’s cut the POTUS some slack. After all, he’s entrusted with governing and being a political leader, not with parsing theological lingo. Very true, which is why, I suppose, Obama made certain it was all about politics:
The politics of Christianity, Obama said, have tended to focus around a narrow set of issues, such as abortion. He said he hopes that changes in time for the 2016 election. “It would be powerful for our faith based organizations to speak out on this in a more forceful fashion,” he said.
How strange that the President would think concern about abortion reflects a focus on a narrow set of issues when his own record, from the start of his public service, has been 100% pro-abortion, including opposing the ban of partial birth abortion. And how strange it is when you consider that two years ago he told Planned Parenthood that he was fully committed to “fighting” for that group, concluding his speech by saying, “Thank you Planned Parenthood. God bless you.” On and on and on it goes.
The fact is, as the USCCB has shown, abortion and poverty are closely linked, and several decades of legalized abortion have not put a dent in either the number of abortions or the prevalence of poverty, in large part because both abortion and poverty are deeply rooted in a culture of rootlessness, divorce, out-of-wedlock births, absent fathers, and a sugar-daddy system that rewards women for being single mothers rather than encouraging them to wives first and then mothers:
Marriage has been called “America’s greatest weapon against child poverty.” By the same token, anything that disrupts lasting relationships undermines the ability of women and men to join together to make a promising future for themselves and their children. In short, poverty can lead to abortion, and abortion can lead to more poverty.
Pope Francis has seen a deeper link between the poor and the unborn. They are both among the first victims of a “throw-away society,” an attitude that sees people as disposable when they do not serve the selfish interests of those with more power.
All that said, what is Obama’s stunning solution to poverty?
The president called for investment in public schools, universities, job training, and infrastructure, but said Americans must realize these things will cost money.
“Those things are not going to happen through market forces alone,” he said. “Our governments and our budgets have to reflect our willingness to make those investments.”
Brilliant! Why had no one ever thought of that before? Good grief. Meanwhile, Francis says something much different in his Lenten address, building on the reality of Christ becoming poor that we might become rich:
We might think that this “way” of poverty was Jesus’ way, whereas we who come after him can save the world with the right kind of human resources. This is not the case. In every time and place God continues to save mankind and the world through the poverty of Christ, who makes himself poor in the sacraments, in his word and in his Church, which is a people of the poor. God’s wealth passes not through our wealth, but invariably and exclusively through our personal and communal poverty, enlivened by the Spirit of Christ
One has to wonder how nervous the Obama administration is about Francis’ upcoming visit to the States. The POTUS apparently hopes the Pope will stick to boilerplate messages that will reinforce the Obama administration’s positions. But it’s hard to imagine that Francis will ignore the long-standing conflicts between the administration and the Church over the HHS mandate and related matters, never mind this administration’s relentless promotion of measures—ranging from paying for contraceptives to proclaiming the Reign of Gay to exporting “reproductive justice” to other countries—that are, simply put, part of the culture of death and the “ideological colonization” that Francis has denounced several times.
And then there is the fact, as Sandro Magister noted earlier this week, that since the Synod last year Francis “has intensified his remarks on all the most controversial questions connected to the synodal theme of the family: contraception, abortion, divorce, second marriages, homosexual marriage, ‘gender’ ideology.” Among those recent papal remarks is the following:
Beloved bishops [of Mozambique], spare no effort in supporting the family and in defending life from its conception until natural death. In this regard, remember the choices proper to a disciple of Christ and the beauty of being a mother accompanied by the support of the family and of the local community. May the family always be defended as a privileged source of fraternity, respect for others, and the primary pathway of peace.
Hmmm. Wouldn’t it be great if American Christians spoke a lot more like Pope Francis?