Pope Francis challenges all of us.
Evidently, a lot of people are irate with the pope because of the choice between their politics and their faith that he’s put in front of them. I’m caught in more prosaic conundrums. I made the decision a long time ago — and it was painful at the time, with a lot of payback from the outraged — to dump partisan politics and follow Jesus. I think that means, among other things, following the teachings of His Church and his Vicar.
I did this so many years back that I have trouble relating to people who are faced with it now. Most of the people throwing these hissy fits over the pope’s leadership are private citizens. They don’t face reprisals for accepting the Pope’s teaching. I doubt that they’ll lose their friends. I’m pretty sure that no one is going to try to get them fired from their jobs or picket them or threaten to kill them.
I can see that putting faithfulness to the teaching authority of the Church ahead of their politics a big, big deal to a lot of people. But I honestly have trouble grokking their anguish.
Not that Pope Francis’ encyclical or his recent statements left me unscathed. I’m not reeling from the blow or anything. But I know that the things he’s suggested are going to require sacrifice from all of us, including me.
For instance, am I supposed to bury my retirement savings in a mayonnaise jar in the backyard? That’s about the size of it if I keep my investments totally out of the hands of people who do evil with my hard-gotten gain. I certainly haven’t gone out and bought bonds issued by arms dealers or companies that manufacture abortion drugs. But I imagine some of my money gets to them, anyway. I have a chunk of my savings in total market index funds. That means I own a piece of everybody.
Should I sell this and put the money … where? Maybe the mayonnaise jar?
Another troubling thing is air conditioning. It seems that the Holy Father doesn’t think too highly of refrigerated air.
I live in an area where the temps go over a hundred degrees almost every summer. This isn’t the desert, so the heat has the added punch of high humidity. When I open my front door on a hot summer day, it feels like I am standing in the gateway to hell.
Am I really supposed to switch off the air con?
I tossed my politics overboard for Christ so long ago that, while I can remember the fear and dread I felt at the loss of friends and the attacks that I knew I would be subjected to, I can’t conjure up even a twinge of the emotion itself. That’s all burnt bridges and spilt milk for me now.
The heat of an Oklahoma summer is a present reality. No conjuring is needed to recognize that it drains the life out of me like pouring baking soda in a battery.
I can, if I become convinced that it’s what I must do, empty a mayonnaise jar, dig a hole and toss my savings into it. That I can manage.
But air conditioning? Give up air conditioning? Isn’t there some other way to heed the pope’s call?
For those of you like me, who trust the pope and want to follow him, but who aren’t quite ready to rip out the air con, here are five healthy, holy, and relatively painless things you can do. Implementing them will not only give you time to work your way into the tougher things, it will grow your faith while you do them.
1. Honor the Sabbath day. I experienced an out-of-the-blue conviction that I had been ignoring one of the commandments on a Saturday afternoon about a year ago. I’ve been doing my best to be a Sabbath keeper ever since. The surprise is how good it’s been for me. Since I take care of my elderly mother, my day of “rest” isn’t all that restful, but it is a day on which I don’t do the world’s work.
How does this help the environment? It takes me out of action. Every 7 days, for one whole 24 period, I stop spinning the wheel. I don’t shop on Sundays or run around all over everywhere. I pretty much stay home and hang out with my family. It is a break from the steamroller pressures of daily life.
I’m sure Sabbath keeping lowers my consumption of everything from fossil fuels to credit card plastic. I know that the break itself is invaluable to me as a person. I thought Sabbath keeping was an act of obedience. It turns out that it’s a gift God wanted to give me.
If enough of us start actually keeping the Sabbath, the drop in consumption is bound to have a positive impact on the environment, both social and ecological.
2. Give a couple of oldsters a ride to mass this Sunday. It’s tough for disabled people and the elderly to get to church. They often aren’t safe for themselves or others when they get behind the wheel. Giving them a ride would be an act of holy carpooling.
3. Limit the activities your kids can do after school. Too many parents are really their children’s chauffeurs instead of their parents. They spend an inordinate amount of time, driving their children from one activity to the next. Let the kids pick one activity they like. It can be sports, or chess club or whatever. But keep it at one. Then spend the other evenings at home as a family. This not only saves on gasoline and wear and tear on your car, it will give you and your kids some genuine family time.
4. Turn the thermostat up in summer, down in winter. Dress in cool clothes and use fans to supplement the air con when the weather is hot. Do the reverse in winter. Turn the thermostat down and wear warm clothes. Turn off things you aren’t using. Use power strips to make this easy. It will save you money, and if we all do it, it will have a positive impact on the environment.
5. Give a thought to where you invest your savings. If you have a 401k, you will be limited to the options your employer gives you. But, within that limitation, think about those options in terms of the behavior of the companies those investments represent. Does the company use slave labor to manufacture its goods? Does it have a history of labor or social abuses? Are its products harmful to people? (Big tobacco is a for-instance.)
I think it’s impossible to play cop on all the stocks and bonds held in a heavily diversified mutual fund. Index funds hold stocks and bonds representing the whole market, or a segment of the market. Managed funds hold far less investments. If you have one of these funds, you can look at their portfolios and see if they are weighted to companies that you know are objectionable. If nothing else, you can write your plan managers and let them know of your objections.
I know that these may seem like tepid suggestions. But simple, small things like these, when they are multiplied by over a billion Catholics, can become a culture-changing force.
The important thing is for each of us to look at ourselves and our lives and make positive decisions about how we can follow the Holy Father’s leadership. That’s what Catholics do.