Pope Francis on Child Labor, Fear of God, Love of Money, and Arms Dealing

Pope Francis is first of all a priest. The world is his parish and every single one of us is in the crosshairs of his admonitions to follow Jesus without reservations.

Following Jesus all the way, without holding anything back, is a revolutionary act. People who do it, even the most placid and low-key of them, become revolutionaries themselves. They are God’s change agents in a fallen world.

Those who try to follow Jesus part way, who stop when it gets difficult or conflicts with other things they hold dear, are pretty much useless to God. He cannot change the world with partially converted Christians. We are called to follow Him. There are no qualifiers to that command. It is absolute and all-encompassing.

When Pope Francis exhorts us to do just exactly that, he invariably becomes the target of half-converted Christians who have been using a selective view of the Gospels to condemn others and deify themselves. Everybody gets a kick out of it when the Holy Father calls out somebody else about sins we find appalling. But when he does it to us, well, that’s, as we say in these parts, meddling.

There has grown up here in America a false theology based on the idea that only a couple of sins — abortion and homosexuality — are truly sinful and anything and everything that has to do with money is outside the concerns of morality. In other words, if you oppose abortion, then you can rob all the banks you want.

This has grown to the point that there is a whole movement of fallen Christians out there who will lecture and hector anyone who has concern about the poor and helpless. They justify themselves and attack others with what are blatantly selective and anti-Christ interpretations of Scripture.

They use this obviously false and self-serving bogus theology to justify helping the rich get richer by transferring the wealth of our nation to them. They take prosperity that belongs to everyone and give it to a few and then proclaim that what they are doing is righteousness before God.

I’ve lived with this blasphemy for years on my job as a legislator. I’ve listened as the distorted, self-serving, anti-Christ interpretations of Scripture are flung in people’s faces. It is evil right down to the ground.

The idea that opposing abortion and gay marriage politically is the sum total of the Gospels is a sick, sad, anti-Christ interpretation of Scripture invented by political activists for their own purposes. It is, in itself, deeply sinful.

When Pope Francis tells us that we are bound to follow the whole Gospel of Christ, he is telling us the same thing that Dietrich Bonhoeffer said with his famous comments about cheap grace.

Of course Pope Francis is being attacked for speaking out for the poor. Of course he is being reviled for teaching the whole Gospel.

That’s what happens to people who stand for Christ and Him crucified. It. Happens. Every. Time.

I’ve chosen this particular video because it contains excerpts from three of Pope Francis’ recent audiences in which he addressed what is the moral plague that is destroying the witness of a good many Christians today. He talks about child labor, the love of money, arms dealing and fear of God.

In my opinion, these things are just a few of the manifestations of one thing: A false Gospel that says that economics cannot be judged by moral beliefs. If that isn’t a lack of fear of God in action, I don’t know what is.

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2013 Favs: News Flash: The Pope Attacks Capitalism! (or not)

Mammon worshippers have gone after Pope Francis lately, calling him a “marxist,” among other things. It might help us to gain perspective to remember that less than a year ago, they were doing the same thing to Pope Benedict XVI.

The moral? Maybe Jesus was onto something when He said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Here is a post I wrote on January 2 of last year defending Pope Benedict from attacks from the money changers. A few months later, I had to write similar posts defending Pope Francis from the same crowd. 

 

Have you heard the news?

Various outlets are blasting it out there that the Holy Father spoke against “unregulated capitalism” in his homily New Year’s Day.

In their rush to hype, they ignore a number of things that I want Public Catholic readers to think about.

1. This is nothing new. I’ve read Papal Encyclicals calling for economic justice going all the way back to Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII. The message Pope Leo gave in that Encyclical has been reiterated by Pope after Pope since then, including a passionate Encyclical issued by Pope John Paul II on the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum called, aptly enough, Centesimus Annus: On the 100th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum. I urge you to read both these encyclicals if you are interested in what the Church teaches concerning economic matters.

The Holy Father was simply reiterating what has been the consistent teaching of the Roman Catholic Church concerning economics.

2. The statement that the press has headlined was one line in the middle of a much longer homily, and even then it is part of a list of problems in the world today. That doesn’t mean that it’s insignificant. It certainly doesn’t mean that the Holy Father isn’t serious about what he said. But it does mean that the statement was part of a larger teaching on a number of topics and not the headline piece that these various articles would make you think it was.

I am not a theologian or a priest. So anything I say is always subject to argument and disagreement. Given that caveat, my take on these encyclicals is that they apply the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount to our economic life. I think they do a masterful and inspiring job of that. The bottom line to Church teaching in this matter (at least so far as I understand it) is that economic systems should serve people, not the other way around.

If an economic system does not allow people to earn a living that sustains the physical well-being of the wage earner and their family, and if it does not do this in a way that does not exploit, enslave or degrade them, then that economic system is in need of reform.

I hear echoes of Jesus’ statement “The Sabbath was made for man. Man was not made for the Sabbath.” all through these encyclicals, only applied to something far less significant than God’s law that we should rest on the sabbath. Economic systems are human devices. They are not holy. They should serve us.

I am not writing this to attack capitalism, which I think is the best economic system people have come up with so far. But I am saying that capitalism should never become a false idol that we put ahead of the well-being of other people or the clear teachings of the Church. When that happens, what you get is corporatism, which is, by definition, never just and downright harmful to vast numbers of people.

Now that I’ve stirred this economic pot about as much as I can in one post, I’ll add the Holy Father’s homily so you can read it yourself and form your own opinions. I am going to reproduce it in whole to help you do that. The sentence that the press has focused on is in boldface. This emphasis is mine.

Here, from the Vatican website is the homily:

(Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict celebrated mass in St Peter’s Basilica on New Year’s Day, marking the feast of Mary and the Church’s World Day of Peace. In his homily the Pope urged people to look to God and to his son Jesus for true peace in a world fraught with problems, darkness and anxieties.

Listen to the report by Susy Hodges:

Below, please find the English translation of the text of Pope Benedict’s homily:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, “May God bless us and make his face to shine upon us.” We proclaimed these words from Psalm 66 after hearing in the first reading the ancient priestly blessing upon the people of the covenant. It is especially significant that at the start of every new year God sheds upon us, his people, the light of his Holy Name, the Name pronounced three times in the solemn form of biblical blessing. Nor is it less significant that to the Word of God – who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14) as “the true light that enlightens every man” (1:9) – is given, as today’s Gospel tells us, the Name of Jesus eight days after his birth (cf. Lk 2:21).

It is in this Name that we are gathered here today. I cordially greet all present, beginning with the Ambassadors of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. I greet with affection Cardinal Bertone, my Secretary of State, and Cardinal Turkson, with all the officials of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; I am particularly grateful to them for their effort to spread the Message for the World Day of Peace, which this year has as its theme “Blessed are the Peacemakers”. Although the world is sadly marked by “hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism,” as well as by various forms of terrorism and crime, I am convinced that “the many different efforts at peacemaking which abound in our world testify to mankind’s innate vocation to peace. In every person the desire for peace is an essential aspiration which coincides in a certain way with the desire for a full, happy and successful human life. In other words, the desire for peace corresponds to a fundamental moral principle, namely, the duty and right to an integral social and communitarian development, which is part of God’s plan for mankind. Man is made for the peace which is God’s gift. All of this led me to draw inspiration for this Message from the words of Jesus Christ: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Mt 5:9)” (Message, 1). This beatitude “tells us that peace is both a messianic gift and the fruit of human effort … It is peace with God through a life lived according to his will. It is interior peace with oneself, and exterior peace with our neighbours and all creation” (ibid., 2, 3). Indeed, peace is the supreme good to ask as a gift from God and, at the same time, that which is to be built with our every effort.

We may ask ourselves: what is the basis, the origin, the root of peace? How can we experience that peace within ourselves, in spite of problems, darkness and anxieties? The reply is given to us by the readings of today’s liturgy. The biblical texts, especially the one just read from the Gospel of Luke, ask us to contemplate the interior peace of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. During the days in which “she gave birth to her first-born son” (Lk 2:7), many unexpected things occurred: not only the birth of the Son but, even before, the tiring journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, not finding room at the inn, the search for a chance place to stay for the night; then the song of the angels and the unexpected visit of the shepherds. In all this, however, Mary remains even tempered, she does not get agitated, she is not overcome by events greater than herself; in silence she considers what happens, keeping it in her mind and heart, and pondering it calmly and serenely. This is the interior peace which we ought to have amid the sometimes tumultuous and confusing events of history, events whose meaning we often do not grasp and which disconcert us.

The Gospel passage finishes with a mention of the circumcision of Jesus. According to the Law of Moses, eight days after birth, baby boys were to be circumcised and then given their name. Through his messenger, God himself had said to Mary – as well as to Joseph – that the Name to be given to the child was “Jesus” (cf. Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31); and so it came to be. The Name which God had already chosen, even before the child had been conceived, is now officially conferred upon him at the moment of circumcision. This also changes Mary’s identity once and for all: she becomes “the mother of Jesus”, that is the mother of the Saviour, of Christ, of the Lord. Jesus is not a man like any other, but the Word of God, one of the Divine Persons, the Son of God: therefore the Church has given Mary the title Theotokos or Mother of God.
The first reading reminds us that peace is a gift from God and is linked to the splendour of the face of God, according to the text from the Book of Numbers, which hands down the blessing used by the priests of the People of Israel in their liturgical assemblies. This blessing repeats three times the Holy Name of God, a Name not to be spoken, and each time it is linked to two words indicating an action in favour of man: “The Lord bless you and keep you: the Lord make his face to shine upon you: the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (6:24-26). So peace is the summit of these six actions of God in our favour, in which he turns towards us the splendour of his face. For sacred Scripture, contemplating the face of God is the greatest happiness: “You gladden him with the joy of your face” (Ps 21:7). From the contemplation of the face of God are born joy, security and peace. But what does it mean concretely to contemplate the face of the Lord, as understood in the New Testament? It means knowing him directly, in so far as is possible in this life, through Jesus Christ in whom he is revealed. To rejoice in the splendour of God’s face means penetrating the mystery of his Name made known to us in Jesus, understanding something of his interior life and of his will, so that we can live according to his plan of love for humanity. In the second reading, taken from the Letter to the Galatians (4:4-7), Saint Paul says as much as he describes the Spirit who, in our inmost hearts, cries: “Abba! Father!” It is the cry that rises from the contemplation of the true face of God, from the revelation of the mystery of his Name. Jesus declares, “I have manifested thy name to men” (Jn 17:6). God’s Son made man has let us know the Father, he has let us know the hidden face of the Father through his visible human face; by the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, he has led us to understand that, in him, we too are children of God, as Saint Paul says in the passage we have just heard: “The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’” (Gal 4:6).

Here, dear brothers and sisters, is the foundation of our peace: the certainty of contemplating in Jesus Christ the splendour of the face of God the Father, of being sons in the Son, and thus of having, on life’s journey, the same security that a child feels in the arms of a loving and all-powerful Father. The splendour of the face of God, shining upon us and granting us peace, is the manifestation of his fatherhood: the Lord turns his face to us, he reveals himself as our Father and grants us peace. Here is the principle of that profound peace – “peace with God” – which is firmly linked to faith and grace, as Saint Paul tells the Christians of Rome (cf. Rom 5:2). Nothing can take this peace from believers, not even the difficulties and sufferings of life. Indeed, sufferings, trials and darkness do not undermine but build up our hope, a hope which does not deceive because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (5:5). May the Virgin Mary, whom today we venerate with the title of Mother of God, help us to contemplate the face of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. May she sustain us and accompany us in this New Year: and may she obtain for us and for the whole world the gift of peace. Amen! (For more stories like this, go here.)

The Dignity of Work and Original Sin

It doesn’t matter what economic system a country uses, the “haves” inevitably accrue power to the disadvantage of the “have-nots.” 

Communist utopianism promised a world where this did not happen. But the actual outcome is that communism, by its very nature, vests so much power in government that the abuse of the people it governs is built into it.

The utopian fantasy of unregulated capitalism is that everyone will have an equal chance to build a heaven of his or her own. What happens in actual practice is that those who get there first accrue so much power for themselves that they can and do pervert government to their ends, destroying their competitors and shutting down opportunity for everyone but themselves.

Democracy’s utopian fantasy is that the people will be able to prevent either of these abuses by their use of their power to replace those who govern through elections. In reality, those who “have” can afford to pay for the vast expenses of modern-day campaigning, thus putting their puppets in office and subverting the power of the people.

The reasons for these failures don’t lie in the economic systems or forms of government themselves so much as in their naive assumptions about human nature. You cannot build a just society without taking into consideration the fallen nature of human beings.

I don’t know of any theory of human interaction that even begins to explain the data of thousands of years of human society except the theory of original sin. It fits our human reality like the proverbial glove.

Pope Francis preached on the dignity of work a few days ago. The occasion was the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. Work is an essential component to a fulfilled and happy life. Work is the way we master the world and advance our civilization. It gives shape to our days and provides us with the goods that are necessary for our survival in this life.

Jesus worked. He was God in human flesh, but He did not disdain to work at the humble craft of carpenter. That imbues work with a dignity that lifts it above the curse of Eden. Work that is shaped by our humanity and that serves our inborn need to create and grow civilization, does far more than sustain our bodily needs. It is the mechanism by which we shape a better us, and a better world.

However work that is placed on people like a yoke on an ox is an assault to their dignity as people made in the image and likeness of the living God. Likewise, avoidance of work to live off others, whether that means idling away the years on the largesse of parents, or living on the government dole — and I include many corporations in this as well as individuals — is also an assault on human dignity that wastes human potential.

Pope Francis spoke about a recent tragedy in which many people were killed because of an employer’s disregard for their safety. Profits, he said, can never be more important than human beings.

That is the Christian viewpoint. It is also one of those points where many stalwart supporters of Church teachings back up and start arguing.

There are fault lines along which contemporary Christians try to bargain with God and get out of obeying what the Gospels make clear they should do. Almost always, these fault lines occur at points where the Church teaches about the dignity of human beings.

Whether the question is gay marriage or abortion; profits that kill or pornography, that answer from those who want to do these things is always the same. I am right and God is wrong; I will do as I want, they proclaim. Many times, the people who are so arrogantly trying to teach morality to God are the same ones who wear out their index fingers pointing out other people’s sins.

Self righteousness is not righteousness.

Every single one of us, me included, needs to be reminded of that on a daily basis.

From the Vatican:


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