The Number One Reason Why Folks Admire Pope Francis

In a word, authenticity. Pope Francis is renovating the crumbling structure of what it means to be a Christian these days, see?

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And folks are observing Our Pope in action, and they are judging him by his fruits. Folks are recognizing in Papa Francesco what I personally fall short of showing them. He is leading them with mercy, and they are following him with interest, even though he believes in many things that are contrary to their own ideals of life.

Pope Francis has been on the cover of TIME, The New Yorker, and he was even voted as The Advocate‘s person of the year. Some may say that this is a Palm Sunday moment for Pope Francis, and maybe it is. A week later Jesus was denounced by the crowds, but not necessarily by the same crowds that adored him during the triumphal entrance. And think: if one person’s soul is saved as a result of Papa Francesco being on the cover of The Advocate, it is worth it, no? After all,

…where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through justification for eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hmmmmm.

The Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation has been a touchstone of controversy since it’s release towards the end of November. Everybody from Rush Limbaugh to President Obama has had a take on something that was said in the Pope’s communique to the faithful. That more than just the faithful are reading it, or at least hearing things from it, is something of a minor miracle, wouldn’t you say?

That some of the Marthas, who worry about so many things, took issue with some of il Papa’s sketches on economics (as if they were full blown blueprints) was interesting to me. From the hue and cry that ensued, you’d have thought that he is the only Pope in modern memory to have ever criticized market economies. Which leads me to wonder if anyone ever actually read Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (not to mention Rerum Novarum, Centisimus Annus, etc.)

Seriously. Here’s a sample from Chapter 3, paragraph 35 of CiV.

In a climate of mutual trust, the market is the economic institution that permits encounter between persons, inasmuch as they are economic subjects who make use of contracts to regulate their relations as they exchange goods and services of equivalent value between them, in order to satisfy their needs and desires. The market is subject to the principles of so-called commutative justice, which regulates the relations of giving and receiving between parties to a transaction. But the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy, not only because it belongs within a broader social and political context, but also because of the wider network of relations within which it operates. In fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well. Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function. And today it is this trust which has ceased to exist, and the loss of trust is a grave loss. It was timely when Paul VI in Populorum Progressio insisted that the economic system itself would benefit from the wide-ranging practice of justice, inasmuch as the first to gain from the development of poor countries would be rich ones[90]. According to the Pope, it was not just a matter of correcting dysfunctions through assistance. The poor are not to be considered a “burden”[91], but a resource, even from the purely economic point of view. It is nevertheless erroneous to hold that the market economy has an inbuilt need for a quota of poverty and underdevelopment in order to function at its best. It is in the interests of the market to promote emancipation, but in order to do so effectively, it cannot rely only on itself, because it is not able to produce by itself something that lies outside its competence. It must draw its moral energies from other subjects that are capable of generating them.

Whoa, Frank. That was so 2009.

Of course nowadays, Pope Francis is exhorting us to evangelize. He’s not exhorting us to embrace the market economy. You’d think the title of his exhortation was a big tip off to that fact, eh? “The Joy of the Gospel.” Oh, you wanted economics in depth? Maybe next time.

Some have complained that the Pope’s language is just weird, on top of it being insulting in a way to those in the flock who have been faithful, dutiful, etc. Hint: the weirdness comes from the scriptures. Let me provide a few samples from the Good Book. Here’s Jesus,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

How ’bout some St. Paul?

In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Let’s go Old Testament, and listen to God via the prophet Isaiah.

Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:22)

And,

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.

—Isaiah 55:1-3

No MONEY?! WTH?! Is God a Marxist? Seriously, if you want to explore deeper the roots of Papa Francesco’s weird language, its source is from the scriptures.

Why is it, then, that everybody and their brother is picking apart Evangelii Gaudium? Because it is speaking to each one of us, in many different ways. That this is the case, isn’t a bad thing. That folks are circling the wagons around their own hobby horses, though, is not a good thing. And who are we to say that folks are being criticized unduly? It inspires folks to compunction to be told to take the mote out of their own eyes, no? Guess where I read about that?

A friend of mine put it like this: The Pope may inspire the worldlings, but he will talk down to those ready to serve him.

I put it like this: Pope Francis is helping us to work out our salvation, with fear and trembling. And as for the idea that the righteous faithful are being shortchanged by the Holy Father, this sounds like a parable to me. Then again, reading Francis through the gospels is profitable. Remember the elder sons complaint?

Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

There is a lesson therein for us all. I think il Papa realizes that many would prefer those who are outside the Church remain dead to her. His exhortation, though, is a call for us to snap out of our older brother-like, self-absorbed, fixations, and follow him to reclaim these souls, so that they do not die (along with our own souls, as a result of our ignoring theirs).

Because sure as shooting, it’ll be just like this…

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Authentic Christians do the things outlined by Our Lord above. We too must do them, just like we breathe. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis is doing them. And the world has noticed.

UPDATE:

Leah Libresco, “I start to wonder, what kind of Christian am I that my friends find Pope Francis’s kindness and compassion so sui generis and startling?”

  • LeticiaVelasquez

    “If the world hates you remember that it hated me first.” warned Jesus.
    Francis is getting the same abuse heaped upon Our Lord from those who should have known better, the so-called faithful insiders. And he is giving the same response Christ did, going to the highways and byways and inviting other guests to the wedding supper of the Lamb.

  • Thinkling

    The thing that struck me about EG was that there is likely not a single person of good will to whom the exhortation fails to say “you can do better”. And in my case at least, in more than one way, as it is looonnng. I have often noted that one can tell good writing when the responses to it demonstrate the points made. This is just such a case.

  • Kevin Nowell

    Great post.

  • Brian Sullivan

    The people that blasted Pope Francis seem to have already decided they didn’t like him. So the read Evangelii Gaudium looking for problems. No wonder they found them! Imagine a Pope from the global south thinking differently about economics that Americans (even though he is one, too. Just not from ’round here)!

  • davisbabs

    Great take on il Papa’s effect on the world! The response from the “Christian” right shows how far from Jesus’ word we’ve come, as they all pick up their stones…


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