“How I would love a Church which is poor and for the poor.”  – Pope Francis

Pope Francis consistently proclaims traditional Catholic social teaching with joy. Even better, he has joyfully lived out what he has preached for decades. Ironically, conservative American Catholics are outraged when they hear Pope Francis criticize individualism and unbridled consumerism. They feel threatened by the pope’s call for government policies which would welcome immigrants into their midst rather than defend their borders. They literally see red, labeling the pope a communist, when he challenges society to care for the poor. Even worse, many traditionalists have called Pope Francis a heretic who is dismantling their beloved Church.

 Pope Francis is a light of truth, shining in the darkness.

“An authentic faith always implies a deep desire to change the world.” – Pope Francis

The word solidarity is a word used in Catholic social teaching to describe an eternal truth; we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. As  human beings, we are all children of God, part of one human family, no matter our  national, racial, ethnic, economic, or ideological differences. Solidarity means loving our global neighbor.

Think about how early Christians lived. Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, they took Jesus’ words literally to sell all they owned and follow Him. (Matthew 19:21). Those who  owned land sold it, caring for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. (Acts 4: 34,35). Yes, modern Catholics are generous, supporting countless charities to help the poor, yet how many of us choose to live simply, so others in the world may simply eat?

“None of us can think we are exempt from concerns for the poor and for social justice.” Pope Francis

Pope Francis challenges people to live out Catholic social teaching. 

This challenge makes people feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable people become defensive and lash out at the person who threatens their way of life, who shines a light on their inner darkness. Perhaps this is why many attack this pope. Yet, let’s be honest and really look at how we treat the marginalized. Do they feel welcome in our churches or do we gather with other upstanding citizens who are just like us each week? Do we walk on the other side of the street in fear when we see a panhandler sitting on the pavement or do we walk up to them in the power of Christ’s love? Catholic teaching proclaims the basic moral test of how Christian our society is how we treat the most vulnerable citizens. In a society where the divisions between the rich and poor are growing, Catholic tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgment (Mt. 25) and reminds us to put the needs of the poor first.

“The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty!” Pope Francis

We live in a society which celebrates individualism.

Catholic tradition proclaims people are sacred and social. Our Church teaches the role of institutions is to promote the common good not to protect the wealthy, the entitled or those in power. In the face of entrenched materialism and individualism, the Catholic Church proclaims that the dignity of each person, especially the marginalized, is the foundation of a just society. In the words of the U.S. bishops,“The ultimate injustice is for a person or group to be treated actively or abandoned passively as if they were non-members of the human race. To treat people this way is effectively to say they simply do not count as human beings.” Pope Francis, in solidarity with the U.S. bishops, is faithful to all the social teachings of the Catholic Church.

“Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down.”  – Pope Francis

There  is dignity in work and all workers have rights. The economy must serve people, not the other way around. This is not communism but Christianity in action in the modern world. Pope Francis states the obvious when he agrees with Catholic social teaching which states worker’s rights are more important than the bottom line. Basic rights of workers include the right to a job which is productive, to fair wages, to organize and join unions. Although the First World agrees theoretically to these basic human rights, they seem blind to the fact their society is not as just as they believe for the marginalized.

“Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor.” – Pope Francis

If you are upset with the pope’s words, you are upset with the words of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Through Pope Francis, God is challenging all of us to allow the light of truth to shine on our inner darkness and let Christ transform us, in His love and Mercy, into His very presence on earth. It is an invitation to a life of joy where we serve everyone with dignity and justice.

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Read more about Catholic Social Teaching in the COMPENDIUM OF THE SOCIAL DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH by His  Holiness Pope John  Paul II, Master of Social Doctrine and Evangelical Witness to Justice and Peace.

All quotes from Pope Francis are taken from his first encyclical “Joy of the Gospel.”  (Evangelli Gaudium)

Copyright 2015 Melanie Jean Juneau
Photo by Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons