For traditional Catholics, for pro-lifers, the visit by Pope Francis has been a series of missed opportunities. In his address to Congress not only did he make fleeting reference to abortion by stating the need for Americans to respect life at every stage of development, he then followed that with immediate specific reference to capital punishment. If he didn’t mention the unborn specifically, at least they are in good company. He didn’t mention Jesus, either. (Though he did mention “God,” which invites non-Christians to the table.)
The list of complaints on social media is endless. In sum, they paint a picture of a pope who has ignored the red meat issues of American Catholicism’s troubles in favor of a left-wing socio-political agenda. How do you solve a problem like Francis? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? (Cue the Sound of Music)
But as this papacy has unfolded, something about traditionalist’s complaints over Francis calls attention back on the traditionalists and their hero popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In thirty-five years of these two giant popes, we have witnessed all of the heavy-lifting both philosophically and theologically on the sexual revolution and the decline of the status of human persons in the twentieth century. We’ll be unpacking their writing for decades to come. As western civilization has crumbled, we clamor for more writing, more words, more defense of the sacred. And we get to the point where this author needs to ask, “What more needs to be said?” How many more words? How many more documents? How many more encyclicals? How many more speeches, homilies, press conferences?
…We don’t need more John Pauls and Benedicts. And this pope is right. It isn’t necessary for popes to always talk of sex and abortion. Where he comes from, those are secondary in magnitude to the evil of avoidable poverty, and all of the secondary violence and evils spawned by abject, grinding poverty. And to be brutally honest and completely fair to Francis, in 35 years of John Paul and Benedict, I heard comparatively little in traditional circles about third world poverty and the social justice teaching of the Church.I have put my doctorate on the line in the service of the Gospel of Life. I have been a warrior in the cause. I have blogged for six years and rebuked my own scientific community for ignoring the truth of science in the headlong pursuit of assuring the slaughter of 60 million human beings in the womb. But I also worked for seven years with runaway and homeless teens in the bad and wild days of Times Square, New York in the 80’s.
And I and others see clearly what Francis sees clearly.
Jesus isn’t just being butchered in the womb. He’s dying 760,000 times a yearof diarrheal disease (children under age five). Jesus faces the great dilemma tens of thousands of times per week in India of having just enough money to either buy food or firewood. If food, there is no fire to cook it, or boil the water to make it safe.
Jesus lacks basic medical care, shelter, or even a dignified place to die from His poverty and neglect.
Read it all. Please. It’s powerful and potent.
I’m reminded of something I posted the other day: the text of John Paul’s remarks when he departed Denver in 1993. He defined for us what it means to have a “culture of life”:
The culture of life means respect for nature and protection of God’s work of creation. In a special way it means respect for human life from the first moment of conception until its natural end.A genuine culture of life is all the more essential when – as I have written in the social Encyclical “Centesimus annus” – “human ingenuity seems to be directed more towards limiting, suppressing or destroying the sources of life – including recourse to abortion, which unfortunately is so widespread in the world – than towards defending and opening up the possibilities of life” (John Paul II Centesimus Annus, 39).
A culture of life means service to the underprivileged, the poor and the oppressed, because justice and freedom are inseparable and exist only if they exist for everyone. The culture of life means thanking God every day for his gift of life, for our worth and dignity as human beings, and for the friendship and fellowship he offers us as we make our pilgrim way towards our eternal destiny.
Abortion is mentioned — but only as a passing reference and in the context of many other problems. This great saint understood that creating a culture of life means cherishing life always, in all circumstances. I think Francis understands that, too.