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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Evangelium Gaudium: Chapter IV

The Social Dimension of Evangelization

The first sentence of Chapter IV stresses Christ's call to the apostles to go forth and convert all nations. "To evangelize is to make the kingdom of God present in our world." What a mission - one that stretches from the first century to the twenty-first which, more than ever, remains in need of conversion!

When one thinks of all the places on earth where Christ is nearly invisible: Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic countries, nations where Christianity is persecuted, Communist countries with struggling underground Christian churches, there is much work to be done and workers needed for the harvest.  It is a work that continues to be an "absolute priority of 'going forth from ourselves towards our brothers and sisters.'” Evangelization, then, is not merely an option, but the vocation of charity for every Christian believer and "one of the two great commandments which ground every moral norm."

I have always loved the image of the two beams of the cross that illustrate the two great commandments.
The upright beam emphasizes the personal relationship with God and the commandment to love Him "with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength." The cross beam emphasizes the call to "love your neighbor as yourself." We cannot say we embrace the cross and seek only a personal relationship with God or, on the hand, ignore God for the demands of social justice. Both worship of and union with God and the social dimension that goes out in charity to our neighbor are integral to the call!

Pope Francis summarizes the obligation to evangelize in paragraph 183:
[N]o one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics”, the Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice”.[150] All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world. 
The pope goes on to emphasize two issues, first, the inclusion of the poor in society and, second,  peace and social dialogue. Solidarity with the poor is central to Christ's call which demands a new attitude toward private ownership of goods, one that recognizes "the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good." Wealth is certainly not an end in itself. It's a means to build the common good. Do we look at our possessions as held in stewardship for the Master or do we cling to them as our personal divine right? Consider that whether we are born into affluence or poverty is an "accident of birth" or, in the Christian view, due to the Providence of God. As the pope says:
With due respect for the autonomy and culture of every nation, we must never forget that the planet belongs to all mankind and is meant for all mankind; the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity.It must be reiterated that “the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others”.[155] To speak properly of our own rights, we need to broaden our perspective and to hear the plea of other peoples and other regions than those of our own country. We need to grow in a solidarity which “would allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny”,[156] since “every person is called to self-fulfilment".[157]"
God wants what is best for each of us. Perhaps those of us born into privilege are actually the most impoverished. Certainly if wealth becomes a temptation that draws us away from God, it is no blessing. In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius invites retreatants to pray for spiritual poverty and even physical poverty if it would benefit their souls. Do we have the courage to do that? The pope quotes St. James saying "almsgiving atones for sin." Since we can't take any of our goods with us past the grave, doesn't it make sense now to put our wealth at the disposal of those with less in order to "atone for sin" and build up the common good?

Pope Francis obviously loves the poor and wishes to personally identify with them. he states that unequivocally in this encyclical:
This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.
Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programmes of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilizes is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness which considers the other “in a certain sense as one with ourselves”.[166] This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith.....The poor person, when loved, “is esteemed as of great value”,[168] and this is what makes the authentic option for the poor differ from any other ideology, from any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest.Only on the basis of this real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor on their path of liberation. Only this will ensure that “in every Christian community the poor feel at home. Would not this approach be the greatest and most effective presentation of the good news of the kingdom?”[169] Without the preferential option for the poor, “the proclamation of the Gospel, which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communications”.[170]
The next portion of the encyclical has generated plenty of heat and accusations of Marxism because Pope Francis talks about the economy and distribution of income. The pope's view conflicts with unbridled capitalism when he says:
As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality,[173] no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.
203. The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies. At times, however, they seem to be a mere addendum imported from without in order to fill out a political discourse lacking in perspectives or plans for true and integral development. How many words prove irksome to this system! It is irksome when the question of ethics is raised, when global solidarity is invoked, when the distribution of goods is mentioned, when reference in made to protecting labour and defending the dignity of the powerless, when allusion is made to a God who demands a commitment to justice. At other times these issues are exploited by a rhetoric which cheapens them. Casual indifference in the face of such questions empties our lives and our words of all meaning. Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.
204. We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded.
205. I ask God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots – and not simply the appearances – of the evils in our world! Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.[174] We need to be convinced that charity “is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones)”.[175] I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare. Why not turn to God and ask him to inspire their plans? I am firmly convinced that openness to the transcendent can bring about a new political and economic mindset which would help to break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society.
Actually this portion of the encyclical reminds me of G.K. Chesterton's criticism of both Hudge (Big Business) and Gudge (Big Government). Big Government and Big Business often work hand in hand to promote the profit of the privileged few over the common good. Hudge is basically the liberal politician and Gudge is basically the conservative free marketer, but in terms of exploitating others for their own ends, they are as indistinguishable as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. Frankly, I interpret this portion of the pope's encyclical in a Chestertonian light. I see nothing indicating a demand for forced redistribution of goods or anything glorifying Nanny state giveaways that trade government goodies for votes. Those who reduce the pope's statements to political stereotypes are misreading him, I believe.

And I rejoiced to see his defense of the poorest of the poor, little ones in the womb waiting to be born:
213. Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, “every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the creator of the individual”.[176]
At the end of his meditation on the poor and vulnerable, Pope Francis summarizes saying,  [A]ll of us, as Christians, are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, and all its peoples." His message is a call for stewardship in accordance with God's will. Can anyone seriously question that Jesus called us to have a preferential option for the poor? He was incarnate in the body of a poor maiden from a poor village. He was Himself born ina  stable among animals tended by the poor. His first visitors were poor shepherds probably tending the flocks of richer men. He was raised by poor parents who couldn't even afford to provide a lamb for sacrifice at His presentation. He worked and earned his bread as a carpenter and, when His public ministry began, He was a wanderer with no place to lay His head. After His death He was wrapped in a linen shroud provided by a friend and laid in a grave that wasn't His own. From the first moment of His existence until His death, Jesus was the poorest of the poor. How well do we model, even in spirit, His poverty?

The second, shorter, portion of Chapter IV focuses on peace and dialogue and Pope Francis identifies three areas: "dialogue with states, dialogue with society – including dialogue with cultures and the sciences – and dialogue with other believers who are not part of the Catholic Church."

With regard to dialogue with the states the pope says:
240. It is the responsibility of the State to safeguard and promote the common good of society.[188] Based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and fully committed to political dialogue and consensus building, it plays a fundamental role, one which cannot be delegated, in working for the integral development of all. This role, at present, calls for profound social humility.
This statement certainly corresponds to Church teaching, especially the reference to subsidiarity that recognizes problems should be addressed at the lowest level, i.e., the family first. It also respects the ideal that we are all brothers and sisters before the Lord called to love and serve one another in "solidarity."

From this focus the pope turns to the sate and socity:
241. In her dialogue with the State and with society, the Church does not have solutions for every particular issue. Together with the various sectors of society, she supports those programmes which best respond to the dignity of each person and the common good. In doing this, she proposes in a clear way the fundamental values of human life and convictions which can then find expression in political activity.
This statement, in my opinion, recognizes the legitimate role of the laity, including political action, to take the moral values espoused by the Church and put them into practice. This is where prudential judgment comes in. What is more likely to help the poor, for example, an unsustainable health care program that mandates killing children and bankrupts businesses so they make all employees part-timers with no benefits or a program that encourages medical savings plans and encourages employer contributions? There are many ways to address problems; advocating socialism is usually among the worst and most dehumanizing alternatives.

The last element Pope Francis mentions in the service of peace is the dialogue between science and faith. The pope makes it clear that there is no war between science and faith. Rather:
Faith is not fearful of reason; on the contrary, it seeks and trusts reason, since “the light of reason and the light of faith both come from God”[191] and cannot contradict each other. Evangelization is attentive to scientific advances and wishes to shed on them the light of faith and the natural law so that they will remain respectful of the centrality and supreme value of the human person at every stage of life. All of society can be enriched thanks to this dialogue, which opens up new horizons for thought and expands the possibilities of reason.
St. Thomas Aquinas made it clear that faith and reason are not at war. As Pope Benedict pointed out in his general weekly audience of June 2, 2010:
Thomas Aquinas demonstrated that a natural harmony exists between Christian faith and reason. This was Thomas’ great achievement. In that moment of a clash between two cultures — a moment in which it seemed that faith would have to capitulate to reason — Thomas demonstrated that the two go together: what seemed to be reason incompatible with faith was not reason, and what seemed to be faith was not faith insofar as it was opposed to true rationality. Thus, he created a new synthesis, which shaped culture throughout the following centuries.
And Pope Francis also reflects that harmonious continuity. He ends this chapter of the encyclical with a discussion of the dialogue among believers outside the Catholic Church beginning by lamenting the "scandal of divided Christians." Responding to that sad reality he writes:
If we concentrate on the convictions we share, and if we keep in mind the principle of the hierarchy of truths, we will be able to progress decidedly towards common expressions of proclamation, service and witness....How many important things unite us! If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another! 
The pope refers to Judaism, while clearly articulating the call of the Church to evangelize saying, "the Church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah." This is not syncretism, but an unambiguous declaration of the call to faithfully evangelize those outside the sheepfold. He continues that theme in the section on interreligious dialogue. There is no question of abandoning the Catholic identity for a false unity:
True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being “open to understanding those of the other party” and “knowing that dialogue can enrich each side”.[196] What is not helpful is a diplomatic openness which says “yes” to everything in order to avoid problems, for this would be a way of deceiving others and denying them the good which we have been given to share generously with others. Evangelization and interreligious dialogue, far from being opposed, mutually support and nourish one another.[197]
Faith can never be coerced. Jesus invited, He called, He loved. And that is the approach evangelization must take in the pursuit of peace. The section on interreligious dialogue which includes even those who profess no religion or even atheism reminds me of the Solemn Intercessions of the Good Friday liturgy when we pray for both those inside and outside of the Church and even those who do not believe in God at all. We are brothers and sisters in the Lord, even those most confused and deceived about the true nature of God and man. As Pope Francis summarizes at the end of Chapter IV:
A special place of encounter is offered by new Areopagi such as the Court of the Gentiles, where “believers and non-believers are able to engage in dialogue about fundamental issues of ethics, art and science, and about the search for transcendence”.[204] This too is a path to peace in our troubled world.
All those who are searching for truth are searching for God. As we dialogue on these "fundamental issues" we give the Holy Spirit room to blow where He wills. It is our duty not to get in His way, but to offer such an attractive reflection of hope that we become magnets that draw all to Christ and His Church.

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