Evangelii Gaudium Cliff Notes Part 2: The Beam in My Eye

Evangelii Gaudium Cliff Notes Part 2: The Beam in My Eye December 10, 2013


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. 

Jesus Christ

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.

It was Christ the Lord who drove the money changers out of the temple.

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.


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45 responses to “Evangelii Gaudium Cliff Notes Part 2: The Beam in My Eye”

  1. Off Topic, Rebecca, the good news is that I sent you a little Christmas present that I think you may enjoy. The bad news is that Amazon informs me that it will not reach you till next year. I addressed it to your office in the House of Representatives.

  2. Great series Rebecca. One of my concerns has always been the damage that harsh economic issue viewpoints by Christians do to evangelization. Those public expressions and examples bolster a secular opinion that Christianity is hypocritical. It is as you say, keeping people away from the treasures of Truth. Prosperity Theology is a false gospel as well and is hurting vulnerable people. I have had a plank in my eye towards conservative Christians in this area and am working on it, but I would suggest they replace the insults and pride in this area by charitably offering real solutions for the real issues the poor and working poor face in the world. You can’t very well bring people to Christ much less your point of view by name calling and justifying usury and greed. Thanks

  3. Like his predecesors, Pope Francis complains about relativism. My question is: other than having the whole world adopt the morality of one religion, what is the alternative to relativism? How would he like everyone to be subject to the laws of Islam? Wouldn’t relativism be a step forward from Islam? So why think that everyone would be willing to comply with what Catholics see as Natural Law. For one thing, not everyone is going to want to see gay marriage banned. Same with abortion and contraception. Relativism is the only fair approach to morality.

  4. Is relativism a fair approach to the moral issues of slavery, domestic violence, and crime? Are you advocating that only a few moral issues (generally sex related) should be protected by relativism? How about 35 year old adults who want to have sex with 15 year olds? Is it okay if the 15 year old boy is eager and consenting and the adult is a female? How relative should we get?

  5. Well given that the Cyrus nonsense rests on pretty much everything condemned in EG, I would not be surprised.

  6. What you’re saying doesn’t make sense to me, Ken. No religion has a right to insist that everyone live by its rules. That’s my honest opinion, whether you see it as relativism or absolutism. It will never happen in this country that any law or regulation ever be adopted for purely religious reasons as in Saudi Arabia where women are still not allowed to drive.

  7. As a democratic society, we are fully capable of adopting rules for the public good. This country does not allow religions to set the rules. Are you living in a lawless society as a result?

  8. Christ did not send the rich young man away. It was he on hearing the demands of the Gospel who chose to return to his life of servitude to the material order that had seduced his heart even though he was attracted to the Gospel. He went away sad after standing on the brink of freedom because his heart was enslaved. Christ did drive out the money changers from the holy temple precinct.

  9. What you are describing is not relativism. If everything is relative there can be no clear social contract since are truths are personal and relative. If this is a “democratic society” that attempts to develop a “social contract” then Catholics, Muslims and others who disagree with your perspective must also be allowed to speak, debate and decide. You seem to suggest that what you call “relativism” and “democracy” requires people who disagree with you to be quiet!

    You wrote: “other than having the whole world adopt the morality of one religion, what is the alternative to relativism?” Apparently you think the alternative is to just accept what you think is true!

    You wrote: “Relativism is the only fair approach to morality”. If relativism means truth is individually constructed, then you must abolish morality since social constructs of morality do not respect relativism.

    The only interpretation I can see from your statements is the Catholics and other religious groups need to shut the hell up and back out of public life. From your relativist perspective do Catholics have any rights as human beings and citizens?

  10. Bill, you seem to be insisting that everyone live by your rules. Why do you have the right to insist, but I (because I am a Catholic) do not have that same right? If it’s “relative” my stance is no more and no less valid than your stance.

  11. We are living by the rules established by representatives of the people. The majority of people in this country have no desire to be ruled by the Catholic Church. You do have that desire. But, in a democracy, the majority rules. Check out Ireland if you want to live where the Church makes the rules.

  12. In this country, anyone can state their opinion, but it comes down to the voters to elect representatives to argue their case and to govern. What I want doesn’t matter. What the majority wants does. This is the best government we can have, given that there are conflicting opinions. The best I can do is vote for those I want to govern me.

  13. What I think is true doesn’t matter unless a majority of others feel the same way. You are living under a government of the people and the people have spoken. There is no better alternative than that.

  14. It’s rather the opposite. Due to relativism, you have no right to complain about Islam- at all. The Islamics are doing what is right for them under a morally relativistic framework- even if they murder everybody else, it’s right for them.

    ONLY under one God, one Morality, one Truth, can we begin to find peace.

  15. There is peace in secular societies. If any thing, it is the “One True God” folks making all the problems. In this case it is Islam.

  16. Ok. Admittedly, Catholicism is a religion of peace. Trouble from religious people is mostly due to Islam. I guess it could be said that radical Islam gives all religious people a bad reputation.

  17. Even radical Islam has a better track record over the last 1723 wars than “Secular societies” do. They’re only responsible for 66 wars out of the 1,723. Add in overtly Christian wars during the Crusades and all of the wars of the Reformation, and only 6.98% of war can be attributed to religion- the rest comes from secular sources, 1,600 wars from secularism.


  18. It depends on what kind of peace you are looking for. I take classes at U Mass. I consider it to generally be a peaceful place. That doesn’t cut it for you.

  19. Those are irrelevant statistics. The fact that people commit any kind of violence in the name of a religion makes that religion bs.

  20. It’s got an Office for “Diversity and Inclusion”, which of course means everybody else and never somebody like me. No, I don’t find enforcement against thoughtcrime to be particularly peaceful.

  21. Ted,

    You shouldn’t have such a problem with secularism. It just means that no religion should be taken as any more true than any other and we should just leave religion out of matters that involve various people of various cultures and religions. I don’t know what more you could ask for.

  22. Truth. That’s what more I could ask for. Actually not lying to people about the relative worth of various cultures and religions. Oh, and not pretending that secularism is somehow better when it is measurably much, much worse. (123 wars started by religions, 1600 wars started by secularists trying to grab power- including revolutions like the one that started our own United States, and the French Revolution). If you want to measure things on the basis of starting wars, may I suggest this is a log-and-splinter metric?

  23. Ted,

    The fact that the majority of wars are not over religion is not an indictment of secularism. I don’t know how you come up with these ideas.

  24. Ted,

    Diversity and inclusion are good things. The fact that you oppose them says more about you and your attitude than about UMass or any other institution having such a program.

  25. From you Bill. You’re the one that is judging religion by the number of wars it starts- I am judging secularism by the number of wars it starts. The two are completely equivalent, except for one slight problem- secularism starts 10x the number of wars religion does.

  26. I think you’re jumping to all sorts of conclusions about Ted, Mister Bill. Don’t do that. It’s very unkind. It also doesn’t advance your argument.

  27. If diversity and inclusion are such good things, then why do we ever put people in prison?

    Worse yet, if diversity and inclusion are such good things, why do offices of diversity and inclusion have a record of excluding conservatives from campuses? Or aren’t they human beings too?

    I’m not blinded by propaganda, and neither should you be. Diversity and inclusion is about promoting a specific agenda of special interests at the cost of a common culture. It’s as much about Diversity and Inclusion as the Ministry of Peace is about Peace in the novel 1984.

  28. The Department of Diversity and Inclusion is like the Ministry of Peace in George Orwell’s 1984. It’s all about excluding people, not including them. I don’t buy into that propaganda.

  29. The secular world, unfortunately, is home to anti-religious fanatics who do not represent secular society on a whole. Secularism is a solution not a problem. It’s only a problem to those who want to convert the whole world to their religion.

  30. Ken,

    I assure you, the only thing you would accept as being better than secularism is the conversion of the whole world to Catholicism. When you go to see the Cowboys or Rangers play, you are attending a secular event. Is there a problem with that? You are governed by a secular government. Is that tyranny. Are you going to judge secularism according to what a bunch of hoodlums do?

    We’re not all going to live according to your religion so you are going to have to choose the next best thing.