New Sherwood

Letting the poor evangelize the Church

In Paragraph 198 of “Evangelii Gaudium”, Pope Francis writes:

“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.”

This is one of those paragraphs that, ordinarily, I would not draw attention to for fear of embarrassing the author. It pretends to be full of deep insights and significance, but in fact it is senseless and absurd. Isn’t the Church supposed to evangelize the poor and not the other way around?  If the “new evangelization” means only acknowledging the “saving power at work” in the poor and embracing their “mysterious wisdom”, then the “new evangelization” is the white flag of surrender. The Holy Father isn’t redefining evangelism; he is repudiating evangelism.

Note the language throughout the document: the Church is “we” and “us”, the poor are “they” and “them”. Although Pope Francis insists that he wants a Church “for the poor”, the Church apparently has nothing to offer them. The Gospel is for “us”, not for the poor – but it’s a this-worldly “gospel” that almost worships the poor. The poor themselves are never called to repentance, as they are already possessed of spiritual abundance. “We” just need to stop offending the poor with our wealth and start listening to them.

What a terrible, tragic mistake! Poor people are sinners, just like the rest of us, and because of their poverty their sins only compound their misery. Unlike the wealthy, whose resources can alleviate the temporal consequences of sin, the poor are devastated and trapped by their sins. I’m afraid that what Pope Francis actually proposes is depriving the poor of the true Gospel, which alone can make them free.

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me: he hath sent me to preach to the meek, to heal the contrite of heart,
and to preach a release to the captives, and deliverance to them that are shut up.” – Isaiah 61:1

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December 1, 2013 - Posted by | Pope Francis, The Catholic Crisis

13 Comments »

  1. You’re hitting on something very significant. Some attribute the rapid expansion of Pentecostalism in Latin American to the fact that, along with the Protestant gospel, it brings middle-class morality to the poor. In that, it’s like the Methodism of two centuries ago.

    That middle-class morality then lifts the poor out of poverty. Its impact on fathers is particularly important. Instead of indulging in drink, drugs or mistresses, the fathers focus on getting enough income to see their kids get a better education and succeed in life. Pentecostalism gives men an important masculine role. It links success in life with living a godly and good life.

    Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is the peculiar Catholic culture from which this Pope comes. The Catholic church has been a profound influence on the culture of Latin America for many centuries and what has been the result? From the beginning until now, Latin America has meant a small number of very rich people and many millions of poor.

    Unless someone believes that there are spiritual virtues from miserable poverty that are unachievable in any other way, Latin American Catholicism is best taken, in all its various ideological forms across the political spectrum, as examples of what not to do. For centuries it has been an abject failure.

    I might add that the real inner logic of the Pope’s remarks is that for selfish/spiritual reasons we must keep the poor around to teach us what we can’t learn about godliness for ourselves. Rather than offering reasons to lessen poverty and a practical way to do so, the Pope offers us religious incentives to keep the poor around or even to increase their numbers.

    That is strange, very strange.

    –Michael W. Perry, Chesterton on War and Peace: Battling the Ideas and Movements that Led to Nazism and World War II

    Comment by Michael W. Perry | December 1, 2013 | Reply

  2. I think all Popes write bad things in lesser documents and John Paul II actually wrote ludicrous insights about the death penalty in an encyclical (EV)…e.g. sect.40… cf Rom.13:4. Benedict’s not so subtle contention in sect.42 of Verbum Domini ( non encyclical) that the massacres of the Old Testament were immoral was bizarro world ( errr…God mandated them) and his statement that the prophets challenged “every form…of violence”, individual or corporate means he forgot that Elijah killed 552 men, Samuel killed Agag, Eliseus was mandated by God to kill any of the house of Ahab who escaped the sword of Jehu, and Jeremiah in 48:10 required perfect killing of the Moabites by the Chaldeans. Francis might make more mistakes because he is loquacious and emotional but they all make them but his two predecessors got a pass on theirs for sundry reasons having to do with rebalancing in favored areas.
    Few noticed that John Paul II called “slavery” an intrinsic evil in section 80 of Splendor Veritatis even though God gave the Jews perpetual chattel slavery in Leviticus 25:46 over foreigners….and God does not give intrinsic evils. In fact if the uncontacted tribes of the Amazon are not using slavery right now, then they are executing lesser criminals like thieves. Nomadic cultures without large prisons need slavery for crimes, debts, war captures…otherwise they’ll kill unnecessarily.
    Popes make mistakes. John Paul in St. Louis in 1999 called the death penalty
    “cruel”. God must have winced…He gave c.36 death penalties in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. So yes… watch Francis…but watch the others too.

    Comment by bill bannon | December 1, 2013 | Reply

  3. Mr. Perry, thank you for your comment. You wrote:

    “That middle-class morality then lifts the poor out of poverty. Its impact on fathers is particularly important. Instead of indulging in drink, drugs or mistresses, the fathers focus on getting enough income to see their kids get a better education and succeed in life.”

    Fathers can “get enough income” for whatever they want by selling drugs, stealing, pimping, gambling, or what have you. The idealizing of “middle class” life and economic concerns – whether capitalist-style materialism or socialist-style materialism – is part of what has devastated the poor in Latin America. The greatest need of the poor is not to be lifted into the comforts of middle class life, but “to know, love, and serve God in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven”. Certainly Catholics should be inspired to help the poor in every way, inclusive of their material condition, and the Church has always done this, but what most of us call poverty doesn’t look so poor when it is lived with grace and virtue.

    “Unless someone believes that there are spiritual virtues from miserable poverty that are unachievable in any other way, Latin American Catholicism is best taken, in all its various ideological forms across the political spectrum, as examples of what not to do. For centuries it has been an abject failure.”

    There are, in fact, spiritual virtues that are unlikely to be achieved without the experience of material poverty. That is why those in religious life take vows of poverty. That is not to say that we should desire poverty for the majority, because poverty also carries with it certain spiritual risks and temptations. But the point is that the poverty of the poor is a tangential concern and can never be at “the center of the Church’s pilgrim way”. Both “liberation theology” and the “prosperity Gospel” miss the mark, in the same degree as the socialism and protestantism that inspired them.

    Comment by Blogmaster | December 2, 2013 | Reply

  4. “I think all Popes write bad things in lesser documents … So yes… watch Francis…but watch the others too.”

    Mr. Bannon, you make some good points. I said and wrote very little about these problems during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. So why am I picking on Pope Francis now?

    1. First, I suppose that I am getting impatient. I may regret this later.

    2. There was a sense under the previous two pontificates that, despite many similar problems, things were improving and the Church was recovering her identity. Promising new orders were approved. Tradition, once excluded and marginalized, had a place at the table and seemed to be gaining influence. The worst excesses were reined in by a CDF that commanded respect. Etc. Pope Francis has not only halted this progress but seems intent on repealing it.

    3. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were theologians. They had respect for doctrine and did not treat it with contempt.

    4. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, whatever they might have been thinking, were not constantly disparaging Catholic tradition and condemning the practices of those attached to tradition.

    5. Pope Francis has cranked up the post-conciliar revolution to a new level of intensity and influence. And he’s done this while taking measures to neutralize the doctrinal, moral, and liturgical resistance in the Church.

    6. To put it simply, the danger is that Pope Francis is radically misrepresenting the Catholic Faith. The hierarchy needs to know that serious, informed Catholics are paying attention.

    7. There need to be voices in the Church that address these problems in a measured, non-hysterical way. There are few such voices. The clergy, for the most part, must be extremely careful about making public statements. And besides, the best of them are busy tending souls and hopefully not spending much time online. I think we’ll hear more voices from the clergy in the future, but for now this task falls primarily to the laity.

    Comment by Blogmaster | December 2, 2013 | Reply

  5. Blogmaster,
    Regarding the above passages from Francis. I think Francis’ Jesuit mind through the years started in the third chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict where abbots are told to consult every last lowly monk when their are weighty matters because the Rule notes that God may put his answer to a problem in a younger monk and thus the Abbot must listen down to all monks even the lowliest. I’m thinking he read that chapter of another religious rule because the Jesuits are cosmopolitan in reading ( I had them 8 years…some were liberal, some the opposite). He then Francis perhaps took Benedict’s chapter three and maybe??…the incident of Joan of Arc who faced a clericalism plus nationality problem that ended up burning her to death with the approval of perhaps forty theologians at the University of Paris….and transferred those or similar Catholic historical connections to his concept of listening to the poor. I had a street fight two years ago with the poor in Jersey City who broke through the front window of a house we have there and I arrived at that address when the “poor” was leaving with my goods. I jumped him on the sidewalk and…let’s say made him tap out. So I do not romanticize “the poor” per se as Francis is leaning toward. A poll in the Camden NJ diocese last year found that 44% of lay Catholics felt that Christ sinned in small ways when on earth. I don’t think they should be evangelizing anyone so I hear you…and I think the new evangelization is partly a change of subject meant to bring Catholics out past the sex abuse topic. It was long discussed but came in handy as a topic changer.
    Francis doesn’t qualify his concepts on paper but I think he would if he were confronted. If I confronted Pope Benedict on his concepts regarding violence in the Old Testament, I’m not sure he would recant but might instead refer me to some historico-critical biblical scholar ( see last line of VD sect.42) …who also hated the massacres or herems of God thru Joshua. I would then smile and tell Benedict that the worst massacre was post OT in 70 AD, was predicted by Christ who said it would happen because Jerusalem did not know the time of her visitation, that preborns within their women would be killed, and no stone would be left on another …ie…it is from God thru the Romans as His rod (Isaiah 10:5). Tacitus gives 600,000 killed…Josephus gives 1.1 million. There was no city that large when Joshua warred. My opinion….the preborns went to heaven but the covenant had to be kept which said that God punishes those fathers who hate Him down to the 3rd and 4th generation (Exodus 20:5) which the preborns were in 70 AD…very much like David’s baby being killed physically not spiritually for David’s sin.
    But we can’t confront either Pope and are stuck with their sometimes precipitate ideas and sentences in their unchallenged form….and if they are surrounded with what Francis calls coutiers…then they are unchallenged a lot.

    Comment by bill bannon | December 2, 2013 | Reply

  6. Hi Jeff, I hope all is well. I have been very busy with family and don’t always have time to read your posts. I sat down this evening to catch up on a few. I started with this one. As you know, I am not Catholic and because I have been so busy, I have not had the time to do any serious reading on some of the controversies created by Pope Francis’s comments. I have read what others are saying, but I don’t really know what I think. Part of the problem is that Catholics and evangelical Protestants speak the same language, but a different dialect. There are times when I “get” what Francis is saying, but we EPs would say it differently. So, I have stayed out of the family quarrels over what to think of “Papa.”

    However, I could not ignore this paragraph. Your critique is spot-on. I very much agree with this paragraph –
    “What a terrible, terrible mistake! The poor are sinners, just like the rest of us, and because of their poverty their sins only compound their misery. Unlike the wealthy, whose resources can alleviate the temporal consequences of sin, the poor are devastated and trapped by their sins. I’m afraid that what Pope Francis actually proposes is depriving the poor of the true Gospel, which alone can make them free.”

    He makes a deadly mistake by assuming the poor have virtue simply because they are poor. At the risk of drawing ire here, I think that at times Mother Theresa made that same mistake.

    That’s all folks.
    Gina

    Comment by ginadanaher | December 2, 2013 | Reply

  7. Gina, great to see you! Thanks for the intelligent comments all around.

    Comment by Blogmaster | December 3, 2013 | Reply

  8. Jeff,

    I don’t read this the way you do at all. (I haven’t read the whole document, I am referring simply to this excerpt.)

    Three of my sons have gone on mission trips to Jamaica to work among the poorest of the poor and mostly physically and/or mentally handicapped. They bath them, shave them, dress them, take them to Mass, etc. Have these poor evangelized my sons? Yes, but not by their words. They see in these poor ‘the face of Christ’ suffering. In other words, the suffering they see helps them see the suffering that Christ endured for us. They come back from these trips more dedicated to prayer, the Eucharist and living Christian charity.

    It is very clear to me that Pope Francis in this text is referring specifically to this kind of evangelization which goes both ways, but in different ways.

    I am hoping to read the full text this week.

    Cheers, Jim (using a different email address because WordPress won’t let me forget I started and then closed an account with them some time back.

    Comment by Jim Curley | December 3, 2013 | Reply

  9. Hello Jim, and many thanks for the comment. You wrote:

    “Have these poor evangelized my sons? Yes, but not by their words. They see in these poor ‘the face of Christ’ suffering. In other words, the suffering they see helps them see the suffering that Christ endured for us. They come back from these trips more dedicated to prayer, the Eucharist and living Christian charity.”

    I have no doubt that you understand Pope Francis correctly. But this statement is true only by means of re-defining “evangelism” in such a way that the term becomes cleverly ambiguous (which I am sure is not your intent). What you describe is correctly termed sanctification, as it affects those who already believe, not evangelism which is properly directed to non-believers. By entering into the suffering of others we Christians can be sanctified for all the reasons you mentioned. But to evangelize means to communicate the Gospel, and neither poverty nor suffering communicates the Gospel apart from a specifically Christian message. (There is, I think, a place for poetic license in using the term, but we should absolutely expect an Apostolic Exhortation to be precise in its terminology).

    Why would Pope Francis want to render “evangelism” an ambiguous term? Because real evangelism – the preaching of the true Gospel, for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of their immortal souls – is not something Pope Francis is keen on promoting.

    Comment by Blogmaster | December 4, 2013 | Reply

  10. Jim Curley – God bless your sons for their commitment to Christ. My own son travels to Honduras twice per year to build small brick homes for the poorest of the poor and yes, the experience humbles him and makes him acutely aware that to whom much is given, much will be required.

    Jeff – Once again, your response is Biblically sound and exhibits the clarity that we should be able to expect from our shepherds. I don’t want to insult you, but you could preach a sermon at my church.

    I hope I didn’t just ruin your reputation :-/

    And now I’m off to listen to Maggie as she runs an Irish session at a local restaurant and pub.

    In Christ,
    Gina

    Comment by ginadanaher | December 4, 2013 | Reply

  11. Gina, Gina, thank you for the kind words, but I’m quite sure I would be politely escorted out of your church before I could finish the sermon. :-) But I appreciate the sentiment!

    Good for Maggie (and lucky for you)! Say, can I find your Maggie on Youtube? Would love to give a listen.

    Comment by Blogmaster | December 4, 2013 | Reply

    • Jeff – I wish I could point you to something on You Tube, but we have never posted anything. Maybe we should. If we ever get that ambitious, I’ll alert you.

      Gina

      Comment by ginadanaher | December 4, 2013 | Reply

  12. Deep Thoughts by Jack Fraticelli. Skorka has gone on record as saying that Bergoglio/Francis has told him many times that the evangelism B/F has in mind of that Catholics convert themselves more deeply to Christ. This casuistry is akin to how Islamists also try to spin the meaning of jihad into a mere internal, ascetical struggle. Yet another mystically mystifying false dichotomy from our Borgesian, Peronist pope. Don’t look for any break in such headscratchers, by the way. It’s a feature, not a glitch: “This isn’t Denzinger.”

    Comment by Codgitator (Cadgertator) | December 4, 2013 | Reply


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