Arts and Culture

Pope Francis’ Vision

Faith & Though

Anyone who reads this column regularly knows that I am an enthusiastic supporter of Pope Francis and his vision of the church. I find Pope Francis’ insights and his hope inspiring. Throughout my life I have been inspired by some wonderful leaders of the Catholic Church, but in my heart Pope Francis holds a special place.

When I hear that there are people in the Catholic Church, even members of the hierarchy, who wish that Pope Francis would resign, I am amazed. What is it that the enemies of Pope Francis find so objectionable? Pope Francis is a frail human being, who identified himself on the day he was elected pope as a “sinner.” No human being is perfect, but I believe that Pope Francis is a special gift from God for the church at this moment in history.

My view of Pope Francis’ papacy was supported by an excellent essay on the pope in the July 22 issue of the Jesuit weekly America. The essay, written by Charles Camosy, is entitled “The Consistent Life Ethic of Pope Francis.”

I think I began reading America when I was a student in the major seminary or perhaps when I was a young priest many years ago. Often when I officiate at a wedding I give a year’s subscription to America to the married couple. I have come to believe that the 10-minute homily on a Sunday morning is not sufficient for Catholics to grow in their faith and appreciation of the mystery of God and his church.

Noting that Pope Francis’ life ethic is consistent with the teachings of Cardinal Bernardin, St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XV1, Camosy highlights what he considers Pope Francis’ two most important contributions to the consistent life ethic (C.L.E.). Those two contributions Camosy identifies are a negative of resisting the throwaway culture and a positive of promoting a culture of encounter. Camosy wrote the following:

“Pope Francis uses ‘throwaway culture’ to name the opposite of what the C.L.E. seeks to affirm. This culture fosters ‘a mentality in which everything has a price, everything can be bought, everything is negotiable. This way of thinking has room only for a select few, while it discards all those who are unproductive.’ Human beings have inherent, irreducible value, but when a throwaway culture finds them inconvenient, it deems them ’inefficient’ or ‘burdensome’; and they are ignored, rejected or even disposed of … Persons are ends in themselves, with inherent and irreducible value, and must never be put into the category of things that can be merely discarded as so much trash.”

Pope Francis resists a throwaway culture that employs violent and (often) state-sponsored practices like war, genocide, terrorism and the death penalty. But he also argues that the same violent culture includes practices like abortion and euthanasia.

Pope Francis condemns all treatment of persons as though they were mere afterthoughts. In philosophy courses at St. John’s University when the students and I are reflecting on the mystery of human persons, I tell them that I think there are two truths that are the most important philosophical truths about the human person.

The first truth is that each person is unconditionally loved by God. This love does not have to be won, merited or gained by human effort. This love is totally gift. There are no actions that persons can perform, even the most horrible sins, that would stop God from loving them.

The second truth is that each person has a vocation, a call from God. That call is to be a gift-giver, which is another way of saying that each person is called to be a lover. The gift that each person is called to give is the gift of self. That call is the primary vocation of each person.

For example, I am called to be a lover or gift-giver, and I try to do that in my secondary vocation, which is to be a priest. Every person’s primary vocation is to be a gift–giver, and some try to do that by being teachers or lawyers or secretaries or whatever.

What I find especially attractive and challenging about Pope Francis’ vision is that he wants to promote a culture of encounter, which I understand to be a culture in which every person’s dignity is recognized and everyone tries to be a gift-giver or lover.

Even the existence of a baby in a womb or the existence of a person in a nursing home, who may be suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, is a gift because each is a person, unconditionally loved by God. No one of us alone can change a culture, but each of us can try to live Pope Francis‘ vision of encounter in our daily interactions.

Father Lauder presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.