“The Church’s wealth lies in the poor, rather than in material riches.” So said Pope Francis two weeks before Christmas in 2015, echoing the words proclaimed by Deacon Lawrence when the emperor demanded of him the riches of the Church. Lawrence assembled the poor in the streets of Rome: “These are the treasures of the Church.” Our Pope Francis went on to explain that the first of the Beatitudes is to “be poor in spirit, [and that this means to be] “attached only to the riches of God.” It’s not about the rags only.
No confusion here, yet. So for the elusive New Evangelization, what does it mean—today or any day in season and out of season—to be attached only to the riches of God?
In the 1980s some proposed the sell-off of the Vatican wealth in art to feed the physically poor. And yet, working the numbers, this total wealth could be calculated at perhaps tens of billions of dollars, while many departments of the United States federal government lay claim to an annual budget measured in the hundreds of billions. And the national debt is already $22 trillion (twelve zeros) and counting, that is, each year over 1,000 times the total worth of the Sistine Ceiling plus the entire collection in the Vatican Museum—and stamp collection to boot!
The modern, globalized situation of poverty in all of its forms, as now confronting the secular world and especially the universal Church, is incomprehensible. It has ever been so.
For its part, or as only part of its part, the Church speaks up clearly for the marginalized and destitute, or even the “outcasts” and “leftovers” (Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones, January 2018). Against the regrouping Marxists, now aligned with a new set of elitist fat cats, and having learned the dangers of alliances with dynastic monarchies (Scylla and Charybdis), the perennial Church still embraces the world’s poor. With an eye to these poor and to evolving geopolitics, Pope Francis also prudently distributes more of the Church’s red hats to the far-flung periphery. Overall, and against any sudden irrelevance of the Church, the Second Vatican Council wisely grounded our renewed worldly engagement (aggiornamento) not to fashionable ideologies of the day, but to a deepened attention to the historical and singular Incarnation (ressourcement). The Council’s Church in the Modern World championed “socialization,” not socialism.
But now, with T.S. Eliot in The Hollow Men: “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act—falls the Shadow.” Each new effort to reconnect to a fallen world seems exploited by the Shadow. It has ever been so.
To fill in the faltering ranks of the ordained, an ecclesiastical open-borders policy ensured an uptick in homosexual recruitment/infiltration. Then as surely as night follows day, came the Scandal of 2002. Not to mention decades of not-unrelated selective silence in seminaries on many moral issues. Instead, banners and hootenanny Masses and theological boredom inflicted on an entire generation or two.
Overrun by the wider promiscuity of the Sexual Revolution, some in high-placed shadows now question the meaning of the most intimate and creative of human encounters (and the religious and natural DNA bedrock of the entire social fabric) as prophetically defended still in Humanae Vitae.
Overrun by corrosive individualism coupled now with identity politics, some revisionist historians would redefine the actual role of the “deaconess” Phoebe in the early Church, possibly in order to eventually flatten sacramental ordination (look out, Deacon Lawrence!) by importing unisex ideology and, therefore, including women. Thereby demoting both the alter Christus of the male priesthood at the altar and the paradigmatic female presence and motherhood as exemplified uniquely in the Mother of the Incarnate Son of a self-disclosing and mysteriously Triune God.
Overrun by fifty years of neglected and integral evangelization, now as part of the New Evangelization aimed mostly at territories of the post-Christian West, some even in high-placed shadows seem to appeal to all Youth with a diluted message of syncretism. That is, while they genuinely solicit the urgent concerns of a largely abandoned generation, do they also downplay the foundational truths and demands of the human person? By hinting toward the blessing of randomized intimacies as in gay “marriage” or by (equally!) remaining speechless over “irregular” live-in arrangements of all stripes?
Overrun by the tragic disintegration of family life, some, again in high-placed shadows, seem to gnaw away at even the indissolubility of marriage, forgetful of how badly things went with the Chosen People whenever they likewise went native in the idolatrous land of Canaan. In so doing, would we unwittingly replace or at least muddle the Eucharistic Church with a merely neighborly and communitarian gathering? As with a hinted open-borders communion policy for the divorced-and-civilly remarried and for non-Catholic spouses—all of them “exceptional” cases, of course, except for any Catholic spouses who in Germany are excommunicated ipso facto for failing to check the “religion” box on their income tax returns?
The current moment is historic; much is on the table in the summer of 2018. Perhaps the recent St. Pope John Paul II is not so past-tense after all and gives us a useful hint. As for the much-vaunted concrete cases, in his The Acting Person this modern-day and non-careerist saint, yes, does agree that as a wayfarer on pilgrimage “man constitutes himself through moral judgment and corresponding action.” No dichotomy here, yet, between so-called “abstract” ideals and “concrete” cases.
St. Pope John Paul II explains that while his inquiry was “not a study in ethics,” it did not discount anything and everything of an ethical nature. By placing the ethical and universal truths of humanity “in brackets” (so to speak), as a research method, our common nature and morality is not suspended, but is actually “brought to light and given prominence.”
So, yes, to the newly asserted philosophy of “gradualism,” but man does not live by circumstances alone. Instead and as better understood in St. John Paul II’s insights into “personalism,” we have authentic personal growth with a functional compass, single-hearted pastoring and ennobling actions oriented toward a stable North Star. It is only in the reflected light of such “riches of God” (Pope Francis’ expression) that we are made “in the beginning” and remade today into the “image and likeness of God.”
Why, then, do some in high-placed shadows appeal instead to “anthropological and cultural change” and a “new paradigm”, at least seeming to displace the only really new paradigm—the gifted Incarnation and our personal conversion—as illumined by the clarity of Veritatis Splendor?
And what about the Summer of 2018? Hanging fire, we have the Humanae Vitae Commission and the Deaconess Commission, and in August the World Meeting of Families in Dublin (and the parallel and supplemental Conference of Catholic Families!), and then the October Synod on Youth, Faith and Vocations.
Where today are those cardinals, bishops, priest and deacons, and no-less also the religious and the laity—“those runners [messengers of the Gospel who] gather impetus as they run. Ages afterwards they still speak as if something had just happened”? As Chesterton further said, in The Everlasting Man: “They have not lost the speed and momentum of messengers; they have hardly lost, as it were, the wild eyes of witnesses. . . .We might sometimes fancy that the Church grows younger as the world grows old”.
Does the Church still grow young as the world grows old?