there have been a handful of books that have truly shaped who i am and how i (try) to live my life. brian mclaren’s a new kind of christian was the first and rob bell’s love wins was significant, but it might be shane claiborne’s jesus for president that made the most change, practically speaking. other writers and theologians have laid out theologies of care for the poor and needy, but claiborne’s book did it with the most authenticity and heart. in it, he lays out a way of jesus that, ultimately, directly challenges the american cultural standards of comfort, consumerism and wealth accumulation (amongst other things).
which leads us to pope francis.
truth be told—for reasons that aren’t all that important in the context of this blog post—i’m not a huge fan of the papacy. if you would’ve told me a year ago that i’d be blogging praise for a pope, i would’ve laughed. but alas, pope francis has spent the better part of the year endearing himself to the world with his grace, humility and, most importantly, his strident commitment to the poor and neglected.
today, that care for the poor and neglected has been made even more official with the publication of pope francis’ first apostolic exhortation. in evangelii gaudium (the joy of the gospel), he touches on a number of topics including care for the poor, reform in the roman catholic church, ecumenical unity and the imperative of the gospel.
his most pointed (and, whoa-some-people-aren’t-gonna-like-this) comments concern care for the poor. for example, he takes on so-called “trickle-down” economic policies, saying,
Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. … The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.
just preceding those comments, francis pointedly references the words of jesus to exhort those who follow jesus to consider our priorities:
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?
i can’t remember a pope using language this strong and as pointed to critique these kinds of systems.
the great thing about the pope’s text, though, is that he doesn’t only point the finger at others. rather, he points it at himself and the leadership of the roman catholic church, calling for an examination of how the church operates in light of today’s world. he says,
I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with him.
I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. … More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).