Thanks partly to tunnel vision reporting and commentary, Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium
Joy of the Gospel"could be the occasion for a fresh round in an old
argument between Catholic prolifers and Catholic social justice people.
If so, it will be a pity, for this document sets out a generous vision
of what Catholics collectively should stand for in today's world.
is in marked contrast with the apparently popular view of apostolate (a
more comprehensive term than "ministry" and therefore preferable when
speaking of the Church's mission as a whole) as a zero sum power game
where some people win and others lose. As Pope Francis makes clear, the
challenge of apostolate is an opportunity for all Catholics to perform a
multitude of individual tasks that together continue the redemptive
work of Christ.
much of the media discussion of this document has been an exercise in
reductionism focusing largely, or even exclusively, on what it says
about trickle-down economics. That Francis has something to say on this
subject is obvious. That this is all he has to say is simply not true.
But you'd have a hard time knowing that from some of the
ideologically-colored commentary, both left and right.
Which, to repeat, is a shame. Understood this way, Evangelii Gaudium becomes
a one-dimensional tract lending support to the idea that declaring a
commitment to social justice is all it takes to claim bona fides as a
Catholic. But this ignores the Pope's strong words on abortion,
traditional marriage, and much else. The papal invitation to prolifers
and justice people to make common cause on a broad agenda relating to
human life and human dignity gets lost.
too, that this apostolic exhortation is a response to last year's world
Synod of Bishops on evangelization. Preaching the gospel--the good news
of Christ--is its theme and rationale. This fundamental fact has also
been ignored in much said about the document.
A few quotes may suggest the flavor of Evangelii Gaudium.
poverty. "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 has returned in…the idolatry of money and the
dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose."
abortion. "Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of
our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be
expected to change her position…. This is not something subject to
alleged reforms or 'modernizations.' It is not 'progressive' to try to
resolve problems by eliminating a human life."
marriage and family. "The weakening of [social] bonds is particularly
serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society….Marriage
now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can
be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensable
contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and
momentary needs of the couple."
on, Francis makes the point that today's instant communication and
"occasionally biased" media create a "greater risk" that the Church's
message will be distorted. How sad, then, if a papal message with great
potential for bringing Catholics together gets exploited to drive them
apart. As he says of abortion, the defense of unborn human life is
"closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right."
Surely we can all come together on that.