“In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning. The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message.” (Paragraph 34, Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation of the Holy Father Francis, 11/24/2013)
Pope Francis knew it would happen. He knew that the press, pundits and politicians would miss the central message of his Apostolic Exhortation (AE) Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”). The central message: Catholics must work harder and joyfully to save more souls for God by evangelizing on the Gospel and the saving power of Jesus Christ. He even warned about this phenomenon in the AE itself as indicated in the quote above. Indeed, the message on evangelization has been distorted and reduced to some of its secondary aspects and misses the point of conveying the heart of Christ’s message. As always, those who prefer large government and claim to want to help the poor with collectivist approaches have misinterpreted the Pope’s recent call for Christian Evangelism. They have found another way to falsely point to something supporting their plans to redistribute the wealth through the force of government while they routinely reject the morals of the church itself. The collectivists play the classic role of “Cafeteria Catholic” by distorting the message on economics and ignoring the messages on faith, salvation, traditional marriage, individual responsibility and the actual attacks on big government.
This week, the Sun Beam Times will be analyzing “The Joy of the Gospel”[i]. This Apostolic Exhortation is not considered the highest level of “infallible, Ex Cathedra” teaching of the church but is still part of the ordinary magisterium (teaching authority) of the Catholic church to which faithful Catholics must submit. That said, the Holy Father actively points to two thousand years of Catholic teaching as the context in which his exhortation must be considered. He pointed out in the §34 quote above that context is important. The definitive context of this and all Papal messages is the church’s teachings expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), which was revised by Pope John Paul II in 1997. Pope Francis, like many Popes before him, pointed out that some of what he offers is personal opinion (see below) and there are many areas his Holiness is simply not qualified to analyze or to offer authoritative Declarations.
“§16. …Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound “decentralization”.”
Pope Francis echoes the attitude of Pope Leo the XIII who was one of the first to take on modern economic issues in “Rerum Novarum”.
“If I were to pronounce on any single matter of a prevailing economic problem, I should be interfering with the freedom of men to work out their own affairs. Certain cases must be solved in the domain of facts, case by case as they occur…Men must realize in deeds those things, the principles of which have been placed beyond dispute…These things one must leave to the solution of time and experience.” Pope Leo XIII as quoted in “Leo the Thirteenth: the First Modern Pope, Katherine Burton (New York, David McKay Co, 1962), 171.
In other words, it is important to test economic systems and, based on the facts discerned, make decisions on what is most moral and best for society. The concept of Papal infallibility must also be viewed solely in the context of the Catechism wherein CCC 891 clearly states such infallibility applies to his teachings on Faith and Morality. The Catechism is clear that it is the duty of the laity, not the pastors or papacy, to intervene directly in political structuring and organization of social life.
“2442 It is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens. Social action can assume various concrete forms. It should always have the common good in view and be in conformity with the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. It is the role of the laity “to animate temporal realities with Christian commitment, by which they show that they are witnesses and agents of peace and justice.”
So this much is clear based on the analysis so far: This Papal Exhortation carries “ordinary” infallibility on its teachings of faith and morality, but as it relates to the economic and other discussions by Pope Francis, it is nothing more than one man’s opinion when it is not already addressed by the catechism. In the “Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis is offering a new emphasis and set of instructions on evangelization on which Magisterium grants him supreme authority. However, when discussing the setting in which Catholics will be evangelizing (economic, social and cultural) he is merely annunciating his own “spin” on long-standing economic teachings of the church. In Fact, Pope Francis in this very work, states clearly and specifically that the Pastors of the church (that includes him) may expound OPINIONS from time to time.
|§182 “The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being.”|
Lest this analysis also fall too heavily on the relatively small percent of the AE devoted to secondary aspects of socio-economic topics, the main sections of “the Joy of the Gospel” should be described.
Introduction – The background on why this Apostolic Exhortation is Offered and its purpose.
Chapter I – The Church’s Missionary Transformation: How the church is called to transform into a missionary role and evangelize joyfully and energetically on the salvation offered By Jesus Christ and the Gospel.
Chapter II – Amid the Crisis of Communal Commitment: An analysis of the setting in which Catholics are called to evangelize. The Temporal problems facing individuals and society.
Chapter III – The Proclamation of the Gospel: The tools, methods and means of evangelizing. An instruction manual for the faithful.
Chapter IV – The Social Dimension of Evangelization: The importance of interacting with society and impacting it through evangelization. More commentary on Poverty and related matters.
Chapter V – Spirit-Filled Evangelizers: On the power of and the necessity of the Holy Spirit in helping us to accomplish the church’s missionary transformation of evangelization.
Evanagelii Gaudium is a lengthy and detailed manual on evangelizing the Gospel and on saving more Souls for God through Jesus Christ. Saving from what? From evil. From Satan. From damnation. Saving for what? Eternal life in heaven with God. How? By rejecting sin and all the works of Satan. By living up to our full potential. By treating our neighbors as we would wish to be treated and loving them as we love God and ourselves. By cleaving to Jesus and recognizing that he has redeemed us in his life, passion and resurrection!
This is not a message for the timid – not for the timid evangelizer or the timid person who has not accepted Jesus as their savior. It is not a message that will be readily received by those who have rejected an absolute view of morality: of right and wrong, or good and evil moral acts. This is a message that will be difficult to comprehend by persons dominated by sins of situational ethics, moral relativism, materialism, comfort, instant gratification, laziness, theft, mediocrity and an interest in dominating rather than serving others. While the economic message has been distorted, it is an important topic for discussion given that so many in power in America and the world now are destroying lives through their economic systems of domination. As it turns out the system of economic domination is not the one characterized by true capitalism or true free markets, but by collectivism, socialism, fascism, corporatism, central banks and tyranny. But that will be the topic of other installments this week.
For now, as a newly inspired Catholic evangelist, I call all reading this to Christ. Accept Jesus Christ as your savior, reject sin and achieve the Salvation that God so mercifully seeks to grant you through His grace! If you are a “casual” or “past” catholic, come to mass. If you are a “Church Catholic” who never leaves the community, reach out. If you are a “social justice Catholic” calling for bigger government and collectivism, think again, since you are defying the Catechism! If you are a sinner who rejects God, reject your sin instead. If you have been enlisted in active service of evil, re-evaluate your life and turn to salvation. The Kingdom of God awaits your soul!
[i] The author and founder of this blog is a devout Catholic who attends church regularly, reads and teaches the Catechism of the Catholic Church and has studied much of the teachings of the Church found in its encyclicals, official teachings and more. However, I am not an official scholar of Catholic theology or officially trained, however no such training is needed to discuss these matters. Readers are encouraged to delve deeply into these sources and more important are encouraged to find the salvation offered through Jesus Christ designed to bring us constantly closer to God and his kingdom.