The following comes from an Oct. 21 story in America magazine by San Francisco auxiliary bishop Robert McElroy.
‘How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure!” With these words the new pope explained to international diplomats assembled at the Vatican on March 22 why he chose the name Francis at the moment of his election. And since then Pope Francis has unswervingly pointed to the scandal of poverty in a world of plenty as a piercing moral challenge for the church and the whole human community.
In part, the pope’s message has called us to personal conversion, speaking powerfully to each of us about how we let patterns of materialism captivate our lives and distort our humanity. In a disarming way, Francis seeks to make us all deeply uncomfortable, so that in our discomfort we may recognize and confront the alienation from our own humanity that occurs when we seek happiness in objects rather than in relationship with God and others.
Francis’ message also has been an invitation to cultural conversion, laying bare the three false cultures that materialism has created in our world: the culture of comfort that makes us think only of ourselves; the culture of waste that seizes the gifts of the created order only to savor them for a moment and then discard them; and the culture of indifference that desensitizes us to the suffering of others, no matter how intense, no matter how sustained. Pope Francis’ words about the “globalization of indifference” echo the poignant observation of Pope Benedict in his encyclical “Charity in Truth” (2009): “As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbors but does not make us brothers.”
And finally, the pope’s message has been one of structural reform in the world. In June Francis explained: “A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table.” Francis has made clear that the present economic slowdown cannot be an excuse for inaction. Rather, there must immediately commence “a new stimulus to international activity on behalf of the poor, inspired by something more than mere goodwill, or, worse, promises which all too often have not been kept.”
Pope Francis’ teachings on the rights of the poor have enormous implications for the culture and politics of the United States and for the church in this country. Both the substance and methodology of Pope Francis’ teachings on the rights of the poor have enormous implications for the culture and politics of the United States and for the church in this country. These teachings demand a transformation of the existing Catholic political conversation in our nation, a transformation reflecting three themes: prioritizing the issue of poverty, focusing not only on intrinsic evils but also on structural sin, and acting with prudence when applying Catholic moral principles to specific legal enactments….
Many different types of choices are compatible within a full commitment to Catholic teachings on economic justice.
But choices by citizens or public officials that systematically, and therefore unjustly, decrease governmental financial support for the poor clearly reject core Catholic teachings on poverty and economic justice. Policy decisions that reduce development assistance to the poorest countries reject core Catholic teachings. Tax policies that increase rather than decrease inequalities reject core Catholic teachings. The nature and tone of Pope Francis’ declarations on poverty and evil in the world powerfully convey that while prudence is necessary in the formulation of economically just policies, the categorical nature of Catholic teaching on economic justice is clear and binding….
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