And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.
Pope Francis is calling all of us to take up what Protestants call the Great Commission.
That is the direct command from Our Lord to Go and make disciples of all nations. The Holy Father is teaching in exactly the same way Jesus taught by advising us to cleanse ourselves of our own sins before we head off diagnosing the sins of other people.
This is an call to evangelize the world, but like the good pastor that he is, Pope Francis calls us first to evangelize our own hearts through genuine conversion to Christ. Evangelii Gaudium is a convicting document. If you read it with an honest and open heart, it will convict you of the need to change your ways.
No one is more prey to the error of condemning others while wrapping themselves in a cloak of self-righteousness than politicians and bloggers. It is an occupational hazard.
Since I am a politician blogger, I get a double dose of the temptation to become a bargain-basement Pharisee. Blogging at the intersection of faith and politics is a location fraught with all sorts of annoyances and frustrations. It’s easy to lose track of the love and desire to do good that brought me here in the first place.
Evanglii Gaudium reminded me that the joy of Gospel, the freedom of the Gospel, the absolute certainty that everything I do matters to God, belongs to me. It is a free gift from a God Who loves me so much that He was willing to suffer the extremities of humiliation, public torture and a hideous death to give it to me.
When I focus on protecting my petty little sins, I toss those joys to the ground and turn to the bitterness and alienation of the lost people I claim I want to help.
That, in the final analysis, is the price for clinging to your precious little sins: Anger, bitterness, self-righteousness. The fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, are all lost to us and replaced by an angry obsession with what is wrong with other people.
As those of us in the West move more deeply into a post-Christian world, we are going to find that the only thing that sustains us is the Spirit, and that our call to follow Christ will either be sustained by these gifts of the Spirit, or it will fail.
The second chapter of Evangelii Gaudium is a call to personal housecleaning. It is a diagnosis of how we have cast ourselves out of the garden all over again by biting into the bitter fruit of our own cherished sins.
Since Evangelii Gaudium is a call to the whole Church to evangelize the whole world, it focuses its diagnosis of sin on the corporate sins we commit against one another as part of groups. The Pope doesn’t go over the obvious. He doesn’t remind us of what we should very well know: That when we live our lives built on the cheats of greed, lies of adultery and the brutality of murder we are not God’s people and if we do not repent, we will not go to heaven.
He focuses instead on what the political power brokers and money changers of our times don’t want us to see. That is the vast corporate and social ways in which we commit these same private sins and the enormous price in human suffering that this behavior exacts on so many of the 7 billion people living on this planet today.
A few paragraphs in this second chapter of Evangelii Gaudium have raised the ire of the corporatist apologizers in the media. Most of this particular group has spoken out against abortion down through the years, along with gay marriage. They have not been so eager to condemn other forms of killing, ranging from embryonic stem cell research to wars of conquest, and, as has been revealed from time to time, many of them do not practice a private sexual morality that matches their public statements.
This has confused many good Christians who’ve been taught — by fallen clergy and these same corporatist apologizers — that economics is entirely outside the reach of the Gospels. They have exempted themselves from the piercing eye of Gospel teachings in matters of money, and a lot of good Christians have bought this deal because these same people condemn abortion.
But the same Jesus Who taught that every life is valuable to God sent the young rich man away and said, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.
I would imagine that what some of these people are saying about Pope Francis would look mild and mannerly compared to what they might say about Our Lord.
Pope Francis is asking us to stop putting fetters on the Gospel and accept it in all its demanding power. He is asking us to throw off our chains of political fealty and approval seeking and step out on the ice and live the teachings of Christ as the transforming, Kingdom building powerhouse that they are.
Part of this is his condemnation of what he calls “the new idolatry of money.” The pope calls us directly and explicitly to work for economic systems that are based on the good of human beings.
Despite the media focus on these few paragraphs, they are a small part of the message of Evangelii Gaudium, and economic sins are just a few of the things the pope addresses.
He speaks eloquently about the challenges Christians face concerning Christian persecution (emphasis mine):
We also evangelize when we attempt to confront … the attacks on religious freedom and new persecutions directed against Christians; in some countries these have reached alarming levels of hatred and violence. In many places, the problem is more that of widespread indifference and relativism, linked to disillusionment and the crisis of ideology which has come about as a reaction to anything which might appear totalitarian.
… The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal … completely rejecting the transcendent. It has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin and a steady increase in relativism.
… As the bishops of the United States of America have rightfully point out, while the Church insists on the existence of objective moral norms which are valid of everyone, “there are those in our culture who portray these teachings as unjust, that is, as opposed to basic human rights … the Church is perceived as promoting a particular prejudice and as interfering with individual freedom.”
… the negative aspect of the media and entertainment industries are threatening traditional values, and in particular the sacredness of marriage and the stability of the family.
Evangelii Gaudium takes an uncompromising position in support of the sanctity of marriage.
The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. 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.
There is much more in this second chapter of Evangelii Gaudium. But I hope that you are getting the message. The document itself is a call to evangelize the world. The much-picked-over paragraphs about money are a small part of the message of the second chapter of the document.
The second chapter deals with the areas where we need to give ourselves, both as individuals and as a Church, a spiritual house cleaning. Money is a part of this. If economics have no moral requirements, then Jesus Christ Himself was a fraud, because that is certainly not what He taught.
People who attack the Pope for saying what has been Church teaching for two-thousand years and who try to subvert him when he challenges us to give up our greed and venality about money, are attacking the Gospels themselves.
But the primary injustice they are committing by focusing on these few paragraphs is that they are depriving the people of God of the convicting power of this document. If all you know about Evangelii Gaudium is what you’ve read in the press, then you know nothing about it all.
Evangelii Gaudium is a treatise on the New Evanglization. The second chapter of Evangelii Gaudium is a treatise on some of our most glaring social and personal sins. The Holy Father focused this second chapter on the sins that, as he says, damage or even destroy the ability of the Church and individual Christians to effectively evangelize the world.
He is calling us to reclaim for ourselves the joy of the Gospel by yielding up all our precious sins to the teaching, transforming power of the Gospels. He is calling us to conversion, to walk the walk of our Christian faith in the real world.
Powerful people hated this message two-thousand years ago. Powerful people hate it today.
Part of our job as Christians is to ignore them and follow our Christ. The teachings in Evanglii Gaudium help us do that.
To read part one in this series, go here.