Pope Francis’s Exhortation to Save a Lost People: Will Politicians Popularize the REAL Message? Part II Evangelii Gaudium.

Pope Francis call us to evangelize the Gospel and on the Salvation offered by Jesus Christ. Are you ready?
Pope Francis call us to evangelize the Gospel and on the Salvation offered by Jesus Christ. Are you ready?

 The Problem:The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.” §2, Evangelii Gaudium.

The Cure:The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy…” §1, Evangelii Gaudium.

Pope Francis released his first “Apostolic Exhortation” entitled The Joy of the Gospel on November 24, 2013. Immediately the central Christian message was distorted, ignored and taken out of context. His central theme was a charge to faithful Catholics to personally engage in Evangelization of the Gospel and the Salvation of souls. His Holiness writes of the “JOY” of the Gospel because there is indeed an abundance of Joy to celebrate. God created us a free individuals, each capable of greatness and He works to draw us ever closer to His Kingdom. God so loved us that he sent his only Son among us to bring redemption from our sins and offer salvation so we may live eternally in the Kingdom of God.  Sadly, this message of Joy was entirely ignored by pundits, politicians and the press in favor of those tidbits they felt could support their political agenda.   The Sun Beam Times continues it series on a more accurate evaluation of the Joy of the Gospel by exploring the premises on which the call is based.*

After pointing out the overall Joy in the Gospel, Pope Francis immediately then points to the problem of individual persons with a “complacent yet covetous heart” who feverishly pursue “frivolous pleasures”, and possess a “blunted conscience”. There is much indeed to solve because a person who is frivolous, and covetous of material goods is not living up to the potential within them instilled by God.  Others have a conscience so “blunted” that they cannot perceive the intense evils present in their lives and their community.  These anguished souls live in desolation and are in need of salvation; the Holy Father calls each Catholic to help these souls learn that their sins separate themselves from God. These sinners can be redeemed by cleaving to Jesus Christ and walking his path to overcome these sins and become the great person intended by God and be saved.

Some practical examples should be illustrative. Consider those with “complacent yet the covetous heart” seeking nothing more than sinful consumption of consumer goods.  The recent “Black Friday” crowds come to mind as some act like animals to buy a television or other product.  Their hearts are complacent about more important problems in society. They are complacent about the many blessing already in their life that should allow them to spend more time with family or helping others rather than in line for days at the store. Many others engage in “Frivolous pleasures”. Think of the multitudes in Colorado now harming their bodies and blunting their minds with recently legalized Marijuana. The vagrant who refuses to stop drinking alcohol and demands a handout to continue. The person on public assistance of food stamps who uses them to buy alcohol or the Medicaid recipient with the latest cell phone, large screen TV, or designer clothes. Others seek the endless frivolous pleasures of sex on demand in heterosexual or homosexual acts.  What of the youth infected with evil who attack a complete stranger in the “knockout game” and laugh as their victim lies dying in the street? What of the youth who neglect their own personal development by shunning their own education? The father who conceives a child and leaves them and their mother to fend for themselves.  These and others have a blunted conscience. So many stand by or proudly fight for the “right” of a woman to snuff out the growing life in her womb through abortion on demand. Many others seek to force a Catholic to pay for contraception of morning after pills. The list of sinful acts in our society could go on for volumes. The common denominator is a rejection of good moral acts, the assumption that the ends justifies the means, or the moral relativism that seeks to mitigate the evil in one’s own acts by pointing to the evil of another act. 

In short, the Pope is decrying a lack of individual responsibility in Society. He is calling people out for their greed – even the poor of money (but not the poor of spirit). He states the problem:

“Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.  God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt,  and the desire to do good fades.” (§2)

The Pope then points to a way out:

“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them… Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost!” (§3)

The Pope offers his Exhortation in the context of the entire doctrine of the Catholic Church.  Thus we are reminded that each of us are created in the image of God and that we must each direct ourselves to the be the best person we can be, reject sin and grow in virtue.  Each person is responsible for their own actions.  They can be redeemed for bad decisions by cleaving to Christ.

THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
1700 The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God (article 1); it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude (article 2). It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment (article 3). By his deliberate actions (article 4), the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience (article 5). Human beings make their own contribution to their interior growth; they make their whole sentient and spiritual lives into means of this growth (article 6). With the help of grace they grow in virtue (article 7), avoid sin, and if they sin they entrust themselves as did the prodigal son1 to the mercy of our Father in heaven (article 8). In this way they attain to the perfection of charity.

1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.

Pope Francis exhorts us each to be energetic and joyful evangelizers of the central message of “the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ” (§11).  The members of the political class seek to exalt themselves by adopting selected and distorted parts of this Exhortation.  How refreshing it would be to hear in the media this message of God’s love or the call for people to reject their frivolous pleasures and to grow a conscience that respects themselves and seeks good moral acts. Imagine the headline in your local newspaper or leading the nightly news: “Pope Francis calls for us to Rejoice! Salvation is at hand by Rejecting Sin. Jesus Shows the way!” No, the political class is much more interested in pushing their own agenda.  It will be refreshing when we hear President Obama say this:  I say to you the young men rejecting your education, embrace God and walk the path of Jesus. To you, the person using Food stamps to buy beer, it is time to act responsibly. To you the Father who refuses to raise your children and marry their mother, how dare you have such a complacent heart!  When we hear President Obama call for a de-emphasis of the programs that promote a dependence on government and denigrate individuals as they are no longer called to the dignity of self-improvement, then we can trust when he refers to other papal messages.  Indeed, President Obama and others in the political class may want to repeatedly emphasize this line from Pope Francis’ work as much as others:

“Welfare projects, which meet   certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses.” (§202)   (The full context of this statement will be discussed in another installment   of this series.)

Pope Francis charges the (Catholic) Church to go forth and evangelize. He offers justification for such, outlines the conditions of the Church to do so and issues directives to the pastoral community and lay faithful.  Pope Francis provides guidance on creating a joyful, bold, internally supportive “Evangelizing community”  involved with others in word and deed and concerned with producing fruit(§24).  He instructs parishes to work directly to help others, not to seek “mere administration” as a means to an end (§25). In other words, Pope Francis is telling the faithful that it is their individual duty to reach out to their brothers and sisters and not to simply call for administration of groups calling for government programs that they believe will create “Social Justice”. This should be a lesson to groups like “FAST” organized under Dart, the Industrial Areas Foundation, Gamaliel and others. These groups should listen to our Holy Father’s exhortation and stop seeking “mere administration”. FAST and others should get their 3,000 members to tutor individual kids rather than calling for more failed big government education programs. They should expect their members to directly help single mothers or adopt a prisoner as they come out of the community rather than demand “justice” of local governments throwing more money at problems they never solve.

Pope Francis calls us to reach out directly to our brothers and sisters to save their souls. Society would do well to focus on this message rather than distorting it to their own political ends. The Pope calls out each of us by stating:

“If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in  life.” (§49)

Living “without a meaning and goal in life” is a heartbreaking reality for most of the people you know.  The Pope has done well to ask us to evangelize on God’s saving love and power to them individually. Will you take up the challenge?

*The next installment will begin to focus on the economic and social issues so distorted and popularized by the press, pundits and politicians recently.