The Joy of the Gospel, Chapter 2

This section contains a lot of challenges for our societies, economically and culturally. In looking at it, we should keep in mind to consider both the big and the little pictures; the life of the individual, the community, the Church as a whole and human society.

Chapter 2 AMID CRISES OF COMMUNAL COMMITMENT (Paragraphs 50-109)

Preliminary: Forget the labels of Capitalist and Socialist. In the course of Pope Francis’ life in Argentina, he experienced both: Peronism is a kind of corporate socialism, and the military privatized during their rule. He knew both; he also led his diocese through national financial collapses without a hint of scandal or problems. One was the Argentine Great Depression of 1998-2002 and foreign debt default of 2002.

A review of Catholic Social Teaching:

Individual: the absolute, unconditional dignity of each person’s life, which can’t be taken away or given away. The Church will call anything dehumanizing Evil.

Society: the vision is all sectors of society work together for the Common Good. There is no preferential class who gets first priority in treatment (either business or labor), other than the preferential option for the poor, and the inclusion of the poor isn’t about raising them to privilege, but equal consideration and opportunity in society.

I. Some challenges of today’s world

This is his view of the societal issues facing the Church and its members today. The headers of the subsections are indicative:

-No to an economy of exclusion

-No to the new idolatry of money

-No to a financial system which rules rather than serves

-No to the inequality which spawns violence

He says that “. . .everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. . .Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. (53)” This system that’s developed now he calls a “Global system of indifference” where the “welfare of the poor is somebody else’s responsibility. (54)

The human crisis of today is the renewed worship of the Golden Calf through the idolatry of money, which reduces the role of the individual to consumption of goods. Added is: “. . .widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.” (56) These attitudes also reduce and eliminate the role of ethics in modern life.

Pope Francis calls us to reject financial systems that rule rather than serve. The inequality of money, the gap between rich and poor, the individualism that feeds from consumerism also feed the cycle of violence, which has also spawns a focus on law enforcement, surveillance and global conflict in the quest for security. (59) “Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric.” (60) He doesn’t agree with the process of “blaming the poor.”

The loss of a sense of community brings other challenges: “We should recognize how in a culture where each person wants to be bearer of his or her own subjective truth, it becomes difficult for citizens to devise a common plan which transcends individual gain and personal ambitions. (61)”

Pope Francis says the process of secularization “. . .tends to reduce the faith of the Church to the sphere of the private and personal. Furthermore, by 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.” This has had adverse affects on the institution of marriage: “Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born ‘of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life.’ ” (66)

The goal of humanity: the New Jerusalem, the holy city. (71) The concept of the new Jerusalem as model for our cities is challenging. For the Pope, the city is place where different groups live, work, relate and interact in perfect respect, fellowship and dialogue: “. . .to live our human life to the fullest and to meet every challenge as a leaven of Gospel witness in every culture and in every city will make us better Christians and bear fruit in our cities. (75)”

II.Challenges to inculturating the faith

The headings tell a story once again:

-Yes to the challenge of a missionary spirituality

-No to selfishness and spiritual sloth

-No to a sterile pessimism

-Yes to the new relationships brought by Christ

-No to spiritual worldliness

-No to warring among ourselves

In this section, the imperative of inculturation is spelled out: finding the images and words that proclaim the Gospel in new languages and cultures. The danger of over-focusing on tangential issues: local practices, private revelations, sentimentality, can break down the core message. The breakdown in passing the faith on the next generation has led to many problems, and the causes are reviewed here.

The cynicism and doubt from the media can put pastoral workers in a defensive mode, sapping energy and not identify with the mission of evangelization. It can lead to a similar materialist mindset as the culture. (79) It can also lead to a relativism that’s more dangerous than doctrinal relativism: it “. . .consists in acting as if God did not exist, making decisions as if the poor did not exist, setting goals as if others did not exist, working as if people who have not received the Gospel did not exist. It is striking that even some who clearly have solid doctrinal and spiritual convictions frequently fall into a lifestyle which leads to an attachment to financial security, or to a desire for power or human glory at all cost, rather than giving their lives to others in mission.” (80)

Pastoral workers are tempted to many kinds of maladies: particularly forgetting the Church’s role as a place of healing and acedia, a spiritual laziness. The three maladies of evangelizers he describes are: heightened individualism, a crisis of identity, and a cooling of fervor. These can cause a circle of inferiority, and one can to want to be more like everyone else rather than identifying with their missionary identity. Acedia can lead to “tomb psychology.” (83)

A challenge of evangelism: “. . .our challenge is not so much atheism as the need to respond adequately to many people’s thirst for God, lest they try to satisfy it with alienating solutions or with a disembodied Jesus who demands nothing of us with regard to others. Unless these people find in the Church a spirituality which can offer healing and liberation, and fill them with life and peace, while at the same time summoning them to fraternal communion and missionary fruitfulness, they will end up by being taken in by solutions which neither make life truly human nor give glory to God.

Relationship with Christ, Mary and the saints is a fleshly relationship: real, down to earth. The dangers around it are a ” ‘spiritual well-being’ divorced from community life ” and ” ‘a theology of prosperity’ detached from responsibility from others. (90)” Depersonalized experiences with Christ can lead to nothing more than a form of self-centeredness. Relationship with God turns us away from self and toward others.

“Spiritual worldliness” that hides behind public piety and professed love for the Church, is about our well-being and status, and not God’s glory. The boundaries are:

-Gnosticism: purely subjective faith that’s focused on one kind of experience or idea that keeps us bound inside.

-“self-aborbed promethean neopelagianism” that trusts in perfect practice of piety and superiority based on observance of rules (Orthopraxy).

Both are essentially narcissistic.

Pope Francis says bluntly the Church is not a business. Dealing with conflict is the challenge of reconciliation. Ordained ministry is not a higher dignity or holiness, but a service; its function isn’t domination but administration of sacraments.

In the end of this section, he says: “Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigor!”

If you’re interested in the talks themselves, they are here and here.


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