The Joy of the Gospel

The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.” -Pope Francis

For those in the audience old enough to remember, Fr. Vendetti’s talk was reminiscent of the laid-back afternoon talk shows of the 1960s in that, comfortably seated in an arm chair, he chatted about the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, demystifying complex ideas related to communion with God and our duty to each other. Noting that the word “diabolic” stems from the Greek “diavolos” meaning “division,” Father Vendetti explained that, although we are all called to be in communion with God and each other, that communion is hampered by the impediments of sin, division (the diabolic), and individualism. Father Vendetti continued, pointing out that interference with one’s communal commitment takes multiple forms in our culture, among them: 1) subjectivism, which is one’s own personal “truth”; 2) globalization, which hastens the deterioration of cultural roots and threatens traditional values, including cultural notions of marriage and family; 3) secularization, which tends to relegate faith to the private and personal sphere and reject the idea of the transcendent, resulting, in turn, in a concomitant deterioration of ethics, sense of personal and collective sin, and a rise in relativism; 4) the adherence to the ab rights of the individual; and, 5) the threat to the family, the fundamental cell of society, “where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another.”2 Father Vendetti also noted how the Pope even challenges pastoral workers when he refers to the “tomb psychology” that “transforms Christians into mummies in a museum.” As Father Vendetti explained, the Pope prods pastoral workers to step out of their comfort zones when he writes that “the spiritual life comes to be identified with a few religious exercises which can offer a certain comfort but which do not encourage encounter with others, engagement with the world or a passion for evangelization.” Pope Francis points out that the result is, even among religious, a “heightened individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervour,” each of which fuels the other.3 With respect to the economy, as Father Vendetti explained, the Pope’s Exhortation should be interpreted within the context of the world and particularly his native South America, where upward economic mobility is less easily attained than in the United States. Accordingly, the Pope decries the very limited access to wealth and the “widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion” as an individualistic attitude that fosters exclusion and inequality. For example, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality.” Also pointing out that the Pope partly directs his remarks, not against capitalism per se, but against the “individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality” in favor of “a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth.”4 Pope Francis notes that the idolatry of money has created a dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose or concern. Acknowledging the criticism from certain ultraconservatives in the United States that he was promoting Marxism, the Pope later explained that there is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social doctrine of the Church (see illustration below), which places the dignity of the human person in the center and, which, in turn, supports the common good. Indeed, as Father Vendetti clarified, the church has never been against private property, and in fact, at the beginning of the 20th century, when communism jeopardized the rights of the individual, the Church warned that Communism posed a serious threat to the natural right to private property. But today, private property has displaced the dignity of the human person and has gained a disproportionate level of importance that ultimately detracts from the human person and thus from the common good. The key is to maintain a proper balance among the various dimensions of society. The Pope’s Exhortation explains in part that the antidote to exclusion and inequality lies in the principal proclamation (the trinitarian kerygma) that “Jesus Christ loves you” and which is a response to the desire for the infinite in every human heart. This kerygma, writes Francis, “should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical.” The natural consequence is the reintroduction of an ethics that favors human beings and a financial system that serves rather than rules. Such a system is not represented by a welfare state that gives handouts or a few sporadic acts of generosity here and there by the wealthy, but rather a system built on a proper understanding of “solidarity,” which “is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property.” A system built on authentic solidarity promotes “education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives.” “[B]usiness is a . . . noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.”5 The Pope also exhorts us to pray for politicians and financial leaders to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education, and healthcare, recognizing that “politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good[,]” but requires an “openness to the transcendent that can bring about a new political and economic mindset which would help to break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society.”