I was successfully out-geeked on Catholicism yesterday when I had to be corrected about Pope Francis’s letter, Evangelii Gaudium. It was not, I was told, an encyclical but an apostolic exhortation. My understanding, at least as gleaned in the last 24 hours, is that exhortations are not doctrinal but a call to the church community.
As such, it is written in relatively plain language, even using the term “sourpuss,” and last I checked, it has not yet been issued in Latin. This means we all have to wait a while to find out the Latin word for “sourpuss.”
Oddly enough, the uncomplicated vernacular turns off a few. This from Father Z’s Blog:
Half the time, when I review his daily sermons, I have a hard time figuring out what on earth he is talking about. I am finding that in this document too, but I still have a lot more to read.
The Holy Father has talked a lot about the troubles of regular folks out in the world. If that confuses a churchman like Fr. Z, perhaps a little more of that engagement with what Francis calls “the street” is needed?
Most of the commentary from the liberal side of politics has been about Francis’s critique of capitalism and of materialism in general. Conservatives have pointed out that this is not a new thing (although a part of church teaching that they’ve set aside. We are all cafeteria Catholics, aren’t we?). They are right: both John Paul and Benedict would often say the same sorts of things. It would be hard to find an example of either of them being as stark as Francis does on several occasions, like this:
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?
The conservative-leaning National Catholic Register chooses save their commentary for the sections on evangelization and reaffirmation of church positions on women’s ordination and abortion. In some ways, this goes to show that there is room for people of all political persuasions to learn from church teachings. I also think, though, that setting aside the economic message misses what Francis was getting at: that engaging the day to day economic issues that people face is an important part of evangelization and that economic justice is part of respect for human life.
My favorite part has nothing to do with economic justice despite the media’s fixation on it. Here is paragraph 47:
The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door”: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.
There’s been too much talk the past few decades about a smaller, purer church, and too many church leaders who want to use the Eucharist as a political weapon. My hope is that this letter ends that.
Hasta la proxima. Do zobaczenia.