A “Son of the Church,” Francis Confounds Both the Right and the Left
by Michael J. Nader
Some on the political left claim that Pope Francis shares their economic views. CNN ran a piece claiming that the Pope is the “best friend” of the labor movement, and that his speeches sound like those of a “fiery union organizer.” The Washington Post likened Francis to Justice Kennedy—appointed by “conservative” cardinals, but issuing statements that have “upended” their expectations. According to The Nation, “Catholics aligned with big business and the religious right, who tended to thrive under the last two popes, have found themselves squirming under Francis.” Rolling Stone brands Francis a “radical” who is “far to the left not only of the Republican Party but of most Democrats, certainly President Obama and Hillary Clinton.” Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, says that the Pope’s message “amounts to socialism.”
Some on the political right have used similar terms to define (and to dismiss) the Pope’s teachings. Rush Limbaugh claimed that “the economic aspects of what the Pope is talking about clearly are Marxist.” Jeb Bush assured voters that he does not “get economic policy” from his bishop, cardinal, or pope. George Will claims that Americans “cannot simultaneously honor him [Francis] and celebrate their nation’s premises.”
Both sides are mistaken about the Pope’s teachings and the nature of Catholic social doctrine (CSD). The Pope’s writings and interviews show that his teachings are within the Catholic social tradition, and that he supports business creativity, job creation, economic growth, and free markets.
When asked about Church teaching on moral issues, Francis said that he is a “son of the Church.” CSD is moral theology based on a reflection on the complex realities of politics and economics in light of the Christian faith and Church tradition. It develops from the application of perennial Christian truths (about the human person, the family, and society) to new issues. CSD is not an ideology, does not offer technical solutions to political or economic problems, and is not a “third way” between capitalism and socialism. The Church does not propose political or economic systems, programs, or platforms. Instead, CSD critically evaluates such systems (including both capitalism and socialism) to determine whether they serve human rights and integral human development.
Like his predecessors, Pope Francis says that he does not propose a political ideology, or a sort of “unruly activism” or “irresponsible populism.” Far from being a maverick, Francis canonized John XXIII and John Paul II, heralding them as men of courage who cooperated with the Holy Spirit to give direction, renewal, and growth to the Church. Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si relies heavily on the encyclicals of his predecessors that support private property, economic initiative, and a free economy.
In Mater et Magistra, Saint John XXIII adopted the teaching of Pius XI, who emphasized “that no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate Socialism.” The basic tenets of socialism (the class struggle, the abolition of private ownership, and a materialist ideology) cannot be reconciled with Christianity because of materialism’s fundamental indifference to the nature of the human person as created and loved by God. According to CSD, the human person is made in the image and likeness of a triune God, and thus is called to a life of love and service to others. Christians serve the poor because they are children of God, and because Christ lived the life of the poor and taught that loving the poor reflected friendship with him. “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Socialism’s denial of this highest dignity of the poor cannot be reconciled with Christianity.
Francis agrees that “Marxist ideology is wrong.” He laments that “the Communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the center of the Gospel.”
Firmly within the Catholic social tradition, Francis emphasizes that work is the key to addressing social issues. Work is the setting for “rich personal growth,” where a person can live a dignified life, live out one’s values, develop and apply one’s talents, fulfill one’s intellectual, creative, and physical abilities, and give glory to God. In addition to being the means of earning a living and supporting a family, work is an intrinsically good opportunity to cooperate with God in cultivating and caring for creation (Genesis 2:15), and in making the world more “inhabitable” and “beautiful.” Work also gives hope for the future by enabling persons to make marital commitments, start families, and be open and generous toward children. As Francis said last month:
In speaking about a serious, honest person, the most beautiful thing that can be said is: “he or she is a worker,” one who works, one who in a community doesn’t just live off of others. There are many Argentinians today, I see, and I will say what we say: “No vive de arriba” [Don’t just live it up]. …
And St. Paul would not fail to warn Christians: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10)—that’s a good recipe for losing weight, you don’t work, you don’t eat! The Apostle explicitly refers to the false spiritualism of some who indeed live off their brothers and sisters “not doing any work” (2 Thess. 3:11).
Thus, Francis teaches that “there is no worse material poverty” than unemployment. When one lacks work, one lacks dignity, hope, and the opportunity to develop and fulfill oneself and serve others. Francis would agree with President Reagan that “the best social program is a job,” and with Pope Benedict XVI that a society must “continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone.”
Francis has praised those who create jobs in an economy. In his two major documents, Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si, he writes that business is a “noble vocation” because it produces wealth, increases the goods of the world, makes those goods more accessible to all, and creates jobs. Laudato Si states: “In order to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote an economy which favors productive diversity and business creativity.” He advocates an economy that enables numerous and diverse enterprises that create greater employment opportunities.
CSD reflects this teaching, which may also stem from Francis’ experience in Latin America. The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto conducted a study that showed how difficult it is to start a business in Peru. He tested the system by hiring a team to start a small shirt factory. His team ended up having to spend nine months obtaining the permits required to start the business, and along the way were asked for bribes 10 times. The permits cost more money than two years of the average wage of a Peruvian worker. His team had to make two bribes to overcome the several delays in the process. Even after they established their business, credit to expand operations was not available.
NPR reports that when communist guerrillas learned of de Soto’s ideas promoting more widespread access to capital, they bombed his office, killing three people. The World Bank took note of the study, and now ranks countries based on the ease of doing business. Out of 189 countries, Singapore is ranked first, the United States is ranked seventh, Peru (with reforms) is now ranked 35th, while Argentina (Francis’ home country) is ranked 124th, behind Guyana. When Francis lived among the working poor in Argentina, he must have learned that the system deprives ordinary persons of the means to start a business (permits, credit, private ownership) and to contribute their talents, effort, and creativity to economic life.
To counter this type of corrupt state “capitalism,” Saints John XXIII and John Paul II emphasized human rights, especially the fundamental right to economic initiative, as a requirement of a just economic system. In Pacem in Terris, Saint John XXIII wrote that a person has an “inherent right” to an opportunity to work and to the “exercise of personal initiative in the work he does.” In Solicitudo Rei Socialis, Saint John Paul II upheld a fundamental right to economic initiative, which is a person’s right to freely exercise “creative subjectivity” in the economic sphere. The denial of this right in the name of “equality” for everyone ends up destroying the spirit of initiative and replacing it with “passivity, dependence, and submission to the bureaucratic apparatus.”
In Centessimus Annus (cited by Francis seven times in Laudato Si), Saint John Paul II taught that the inefficiency of collectivist systems was based on the violation of human rights of private initiative, private property, and “to freedom in the economic sector.” A society must ensure these rights with the rule of law, property rights, and ease of access to business permits and credit, while not overburdening businesses with punitive taxes and regulations.
The Church also acknowledges the “legitimate role of profit as an indication that a business is functioning well” by effectively employing productive factors to correspond with human needs. Saint John Paul II summarized:
If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative [that capitalism is the model for economic progress], even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy,” “market economy,” or simply “free economy.”
Francis also understands that jobs don’t just happen, but need to be created by entrepreneurs working in a free economy to skillfully employ human capital to produce a good or service that better meets human needs. At a steelworks plant in Terni, Italy, he said that unemployment needs to be addressed by the “creativity of entrepreneurs and brave artisans who look to the future with confidence and hope.” He acknowledged “the great merit of those business people who have never stopped working hard in spite of all, investing and taking risks in order to guarantee employment.”
Saint John Paul II also had significant moral concerns about certain forms of capitalism:
But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.
Francis shares these concerns, and teaches that the purpose of an economy is not solely to maximize wealth, but to serve the dignity of the human person by providing adequate goods and services, and employment, so that families (the vital cell of society) can form and thrive. His concern is the harm to humanity that tends to result from an unregulated market economy within a “culture of relativism” that “drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects.” When a market judges the human person solely on one’s ability to be materially productive, a market will fail to properly value and protect those who (for example) are elderly, poor, uneducated, severely disabled, or ill. A market solely driven by utilitarian values will fail to acknowledge and reward a mother of four children who transitions from her career to focus on raising her children. Even though her loving work is a 24/7 effort that creates essential human capital for the future of society, the market fails to value or reward it. Moreover, the purpose of a company is not only to maximize profits, but to enable a wider community of persons to engage in dignified, fulfilling work.
According to Francis, a market guided by a culture of relativism will fail to limit or prevent transactions that directly violate the human and natural ecologies, including “human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds, and the fur of endangered species.” Legal and regulatory measures are essential to reform such a system, but are not enough. The priority of the Catholic social tradition is to promote a culture that respects human rights and appreciates the values of human life, the family, community, service, religion, and simplicity.
Francis opposes what he calls the “planners of wellbeing” who promote a utilitarian mindset of greed, consumption, and waste without regard to their impact on human or the natural ecology. He praises the hard work and sacrifice of poor families to preserve the “special humanity” of the family bond, much to the irritation of “those planners of wellbeing who consider attachments, procreation, and familial bonds as secondary variables to the quality of life.”
This critique is fully within the Catholic social tradition. Back in 1931, Pius XI taught that the “sordid love of wealth” is the “shame and great sin of our age.” Saint John Paul II opposed a consumerist society that emphasizes “purely utilitarian values” and “immediate gratification.” He warned that such a society leads people to consider their lives “as a series of sensations to be experienced rather than as a work to be accomplished.”
Instead, Francis proposes a simple, more contemplative lifestyle that is “capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption.” What the human person needs most is not the latest Apple gadget, but the love of God, time for prayer and the reading of Scripture, and the readiness to interact with one’s neighbor in a spirit of charity and gratitude. This “less is more” approach “allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack.” Thus, “Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little.”
One may ask if people adopted this simple, humble, less wasteful lifestyle, would that spur enough economic growth? The growth of families with children is the answer. According to Francis, “the masterpiece of society is the family: a man and a woman who love each other! This is the masterpiece!” This marital love must be faithful, persevering, and fruitful. He says that “Jesus does not like marriages in which couples do not want children, in which they want to remain fruitless.” Such arrangements are promoted by the “well-off culture” that says “not having children is better, this way you can travel and see the world, you can have a house in the country and relax!” It is a culture that suggests that “it is more comfortable to have a little dog and two cats” so that “love is given to the two cats and the little dog.” Francis reminds us that over time, old age arrives “in solitude, with the bitterness of awful loneliness: it is fruitless, it does not do what Jesus does with his Church.”
This teaching by Pope Francis can have a real impact on the economy because more families with children are needed for sustainable economic growth. According to a recent report by the US Census Bureau, married parents with children have more education, wealth, and spending power than all other household formations. Two-parent families with children need housing, and thus they drive the demand in the housing market. In addition to raising the workforce of the next generation, families with children also drive consumer spending on the many goods needed for growing families like cars, durable goods, furniture, baby products, clothes, shoes, sporting goods, and numerous services, including orthodontia and other health care, education, etc.
While married couples with children are the wealthiest households on average, and contribute the most to economic consumption, their numbers have been declining in the US for decades. Between 1970 and 2012, the share of households that were married couples with children under 18 dropped from 40 percent to 20 percent. As a result, even though the overall US population increased from 205 million in 1970 to 314 million by 2012, the number of married couples with children actually declined during that period, from 25 million to 24 million. During that same period, the average number of people per household declined from 3.1 to 2.6. This significant demographic shift provides a structural drag on economic growth for the foreseeable future. The demographic situation is even worse in Europe.
Politicians will continue to try various economic policies to stimulate growth while traditional family households dwindle. The federal government has tried zero percent interest rates, hundreds of billions of dollars of stimulus spending, borrowing and spending trillions of dollars from China, Japan, and other nations, and quantitative easing (when central banks electronically print money to buy securities and government bonds); all of which have resulted in minimal economic growth. Policies favoring increased immigration (of highly skilled workers) and stimulating foreign investment may also be tried and found insufficient to overcome the negative economic impact of the demographic decline.
In this current campaign cycle, politicians will once again elevate economic policies above “family values” or the “social issues.” Pope Francis teaches us that family values remain the key to real, sustained, economic growth, and that a nation ignores (or undermines) them at its peril.
[Originally posted on Catholic World Report]
I love the Blessed Mother! There…I said it and I’m glad I did! As a Catholic, I’m so blessed to be a member of the Church that truly honors and respects the Mother of my Lord and Savior. I must admit that, even though I’m a cradle Catholic, I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, for most of my life I didn’t understand Mary’s role or care about her too much. What a mistake! Now, after several recent accusations of “Mary worship” on my Facebook page, it’s time to stand up for my “Mom”. And, even though I love her and want to defend her honor, I have no intention of getting nasty. Rather, I’d prefer to present 5 facts about Mary. Before you accuse Catholics of worshiping Mary, I ask you to take a long hard look at these facts. They have a way of poking holes in the theory that we place too much emphasis on Mary. If you still want to accuse Catholics of worshiping Mary, then I suggest you ignore these facts!
1. God Sent The Savior Through Mary – I list this one first because it’s really tough to downplay Mary’s importance while acknowledging that the long awaiting Messiah came to earth by being born of a woman…and that woman was Mary. Out of all the ways that Jesus could have come to earth, why was Mary chosen? If Mary was important to God, shouldn’t she mean something to us?
2. Jesus Performed His First Miracle At Mary’s Request – This is another good one. Oh I know, Jesus didn’t need Mary to turn the water into wine at Cana. She just happened to be there. OK, why then did St. John list Mary FIRST in his list of wedding guests?
On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage with His disciples. (John 2:1-2)
If Mary is not important in this saga, why is she listed BEFORE the apostles and BEFORE Jesus? St. John the Evangelist was not known for inserting extraneous details. Mary is listed first because John wants to call the readers’ attention to her presence at the wedding.
But what about “the rebuke”? You know, the argument that Jesus was telling Mary to “butt out” when He stated:
“O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4)
Jesus was a devout Jew and an obedient follower of the Ten Commandments. Why would He publicly dishonor His mother in violation of the Fourth Commandment? Secondly, if this was such a “put down” by Jesus, why did He go ahead and perform the miracle of changing water into wine? Wouldn’t that have been the end of the request. Of course it would, unless He wasn’t putting Mary down. When His mother interceded on behalf of the couple, Our Lord decided that His time had now come. Don’t you think Jesus is trying to tell us something? Isn’t is probable that Jesus waited until Mary’s request, in order to show us her intercessory power? Doesn’t that explain why St. John listed her first among the guests?
3. Jesus Gave Mary To John From The Cross – As He suffered and died on the Cross, Jesus made a very profound statement:
When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27)
Why, while struggling to speak as He hung on the Cross, would Jesus have spoken these words if they didn’t mean anything? Could He have been making small talk? Obviously, there was a reason that Our Lord did what He did. The Church has always believed that John represented each member of the Church and that, from that moment on, Mary became our spiritual mother. Scripture tells us that, on that day John accepted Jesus’ gift and “took her to his own home” (John 19:27). Shouldn’t we do the same?
4. Jesus’ First Graces Were Given Through Mary – This is a fact that frequently gets overlooked by those who wish to downplay Mary’s importance…and it comes straight from the Bible! After accepting God’s offer to become the Mother of the Savior, Mary traveled “in haste” to visit her relative, Elizabeth.
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41)
According to this Bible passage, before Jesus was even born, Mary’s voice was used to deliver the graces to Elizabeth. Why? Because she’s not important? Isn’t there some other way, these graces could have been dispensed?
Not convinced? Listen to what Elizabeth had to say (also directly from the Bible)…
“For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:44)
It’s pretty hard to deny the importance of Mary’s presence and voice in dispensing these graces to Elizabeth. Did the graces originate from Mary? No, they obviously came from Jesus. However, He chose to have Mary make the journey and use her voice to deliver them. Why? Because He wants us to realize that she is important!
5. Jesus Christ Is The Sole Mediator Between God And Man – Now, this doesn’t make sense. How does this help to support the Catholic position? This is why we Catholics “have it all wrong”, isn’t it? Sorry if I’m bursting anyone’s bubble, but Catholics absolutely believe that Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God and man. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) clearly states this belief:
Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men, especially sinners. (CCC 2634)
This Catholic teaching is supported by the following Bible passage:
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all. (1 Timothy 2:5-6)
Although Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God and man, that doesn’t preclude others (including Mary) from being involved in a subordinate mediation, or intercession. Saint Paul, who made the above statement, is obviously aware of that fact since he several times urges his readers to pray for each other (Romans 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:25, 1 Timothy 2:1). The Catechism refers to this type of intercession as being a “participation in the intercession of Christ” (CCC 2635) and is put into practice each time we pray for one another. Asking Mary to intercede for us in no way takes away from Jesus’ role as mediator between God and men.
While I’m not naive enough to think that listing these 5 facts will render me immune from further accusations of “Mary worship”, I do think that they will have an effect if looked at with an open mind. Sacred Scripture does not contain a lot of words about Mary, but what’s there is powerful. Theologians have spent 2,000 years studying her Biblical appearances and will continue to do so. We can learn much by studying Mary’s role as documented in the pages of the Bible. If anyone wants to accuse me of being a “Mary worshiper”, I ask you to first look at these 5 facts. If you still want to point a finger, you’ll need to ignore these factual statements…because accepting them will seriously undermine your credibility!
[Originally posted on Catholic Exchange]
Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.”
That’s a great way to emphasize the importance of the parenting vocation. It’s more important than being a diplomat; it’s more important even than volunteering for the Church. We’re building the foundation for God’s Kingdom on earth by raising our children well.
Have you ever wished you could have an extreme makeover?
Extreme-makeover television shows are very popular these days, probably because people enjoy seeing how a plain-looking person or a run-down old house can be transformed into a stunning display of poise and beauty. These shows always end with the “big reveal” of the newly transformed person or home, to the breathless adulation of the people witnessing it. Who wouldn’t be impressed? Something average has been turned into something outstanding!
Perhaps this is why the story of Jonah is so popular. The city of Nineveh was one of the largest and most powerful cities of its time. As capital of the Assyrian empire, it was also known as one of the meanest cities. Gobbling up land and overthrowing kingdoms throughout the Fertile Crescent, the Ninevites were ruthless in the way they waged war and tortured their captives.
So when God first sent Jonah to tell the people of Nineveh to repent, Jonah balked. Converting all those darkened violent hearts? Impossible. All he could see was their brutality. But God saw something more. He saw their potential.
As the story unfolds, we see that Jonah was wrong; Nineveh underwent an extreme makeover of biblical proportions! But even that wasn’t enough for God. He went out of his way to soften Jonah’s hardened heart and show him just how deep his mercy runs.
God believed in the people of Nineveh and Jonah even before they believed in themselves. In the same way, God believes in our potential, even when we don’t understand it or we don’t believe it ourselves. He knows that he can do great things with us. He never loses faith in what we can become or what we can do.
Today, remember that God has an extreme makeover ready for you. No matter how weak or flawed you may think you are, he sees something beautiful and valuable: a person created in his own image and likeness. He can work with that and turn you into something outstanding.
Prayer: “Lord, thank you for seeing such potential in me. Help me to see myself—and the people around me—through your eyes.”
Readings for the day:
Psalm 86:3-6, 9-10
[Originally posted on Word Among Us, 10/07/2015 (paywall)]