Bob Schwartz

Tag: Pope Francis

Pope Francis: Change the Rules of the Socio-Economic System

“We must work toward changing the rules of the game of the socio-economic system. Imitating the Good Samaritan of the Gospel is not enough. An entrepreneur who is only a Good Samaritan does half of his duty: he takes care of today’s victims, but does not curtail those of tomorrow. It is simple to give a part of the profits, without embracing and touching the people who receive those ‘crumbs’. This can never be said enough — capitalism continues to produce discarded people whom it would then like to care for. ”
Pope Francis

The news in America this Christmas is dominated by talk about taxes and the economy. So it is appropriate that my Christmas message come from a speech about economics given by Pope Francis on 1 April 2017.


Greed, which by no coincidence is a capital sin, is the sin of idolatry because the accumulation of money per se becomes the aim of one’s own actions.

When capitalism makes the seeking of profit its only purpose, it runs the risk of becoming an idolatrous framework, a form of worship. The ‘goddess of fortune’ is increasingly the new divinity of a certain finance and of the whole system of gambling which is destroying millions of the world’s families, and which you rightly oppose. This idolatrous worship is a surrogate for eternal life. Individual products (cars, telephones …) get old and wear out, but if I have money or credit I can immediately buy others, deluding myself of conquering death….

Today, many initiatives, public and private, are being carried out to combat poverty. All this, on the one hand, is a growth in humanity. In the Bible, the poor, orphans, widows, those ‘discarded’ by the society of those times, were aided by tithing and the gleaning of grain. But most of the people remained poor; that aid was not sufficient to feed and care for everyone. There were many ‘discarded’ by society. Today we have invented other ways to care for, to feed, to teach the poor, and some of the seeds of the Bible have blossomed into more effective institutions than those of the past. The rationale for taxes also lies in this solidarity, which is negated by tax avoidance and evasion which, before being illegal acts, are acts which deny the basic law of life: mutual care.

But — and this can never be said enough — capitalism continues to produce discarded people whom it would then like to care for. The principal ethical dilemma of this capitalism is the creation of discarded people, then trying to hide them or make sure they are no longer seen. A serious form of poverty in a civilization is when it is no longer able to see its poor, who are first discarded and then hidden.

Aircraft pollute the atmosphere, but, with a small part of the cost of the ticket, they will plant trees to compensate for part of the damage created. Gambling companies finance campaigns to care for the pathological gamblers that they create. And the day that the weapons industry finances hospitals to care for the children mutilated by their bombs, the system will have reached its pinnacle.

The economy of communion, if it wants to be faithful to its charism, must not only care for the victims, but build a system where there are ever fewer victims, where, possibly, there may no longer be any. As long as the economy still produces one victim and there is still a single discarded person, communion has not yet been realized; the celebration of universal fraternity is not full.

Therefore, we must work toward changing the rules of the game of the socio-economic system. Imitating the Good Samaritan of the Gospel is not enough. Of course, when an entrepreneur or any person happens upon a victim, he or she is called to take care of the victim and, perhaps like the Good Samaritan, also to enlist the fraternal action of the market (the innkeeper)….An entrepreneur who is only a Good Samaritan does half of his duty: he takes care of today’s victims, but does not curtail those of tomorrow….

Capitalism knows philanthropy, not communion. It is simple to give a part of the profits, without embracing and touching the people who receive those ‘crumbs’. Instead, even just five loaves and two fishes can feed the multitude if they are the sharing of all our life. In the logic of the Gospel, if one does not give all of himself, he never gives enough of himself.

 

Pope Francis: Amassing Wealth While Children Die Is ‘Idolatry That Kills’

I am not a Catholic or a Christian, but no major world leader—religious or political—gives me more hope for the possibility of humanity than Pope Francis.

Today’s story as reported by Crux:

Pope says amassing wealth while children die is ‘idolatry that kills’

In his homily at morning Mass on Monday, Pope Francis returned to a familiar theme — how amassing wealth, both money and land, while children suffer and die, is a morally unacceptable form of idolatry. There’s an “idolatry that kills,” that makes “human sacrifices” Francis said, by those who are hungry of money, land and wealth, who have “a lot” in front of “hungry children who have no medicine, no education, who are abandoned.”

ROME – During his daily morning Mass on Monday, Pope Francis said there are those in the world who have too much wealth, and their hoarding of money and land in the face of hungry children with no access to medicine or education is the equivalent of making “human sacrifices.”

In times when the media reports “so many calamities, so many injustices,” especially concerning children, Francis sent a “strong” prayer to God, asking him to convert the hearts of men so that they don’t worship “the God of money.”

Francis’s homily, partially reported by Vatican Radio, turned on the Gospel of the day, a passage from the Book of Luke that tells the parable of the rich man for whom, according to the pope, money was his god. The passage, the pontiff said, leads to a reflection of how useless it is to rely on earthly property, emphasizing how much the true treasure is instead one’s relationship with God.

Despite the abundance of his harvest, the man in the parable wanted to expand his storehouses to have even more, in his “fantasy” of “stretching life out,” collecting more goods “to the point of nausea,” not knowing when it’s enough, in an “exasperated consumerism.”

This, Francis said, is the “reality of today,” when many people who live to worship money and make it their god, lead a senseless life.

There’s an “idolatry that kills,” that makes “human sacrifices” Francis said, by those who are hungry of money, land and wealth, who have “a lot” in front of “hungry children who have no medicine, no education, who are abandoned.

“This idolatry causes so many people to starve. We only think of one case: 200,000 Rohingya children in refugee camps,” the pope said, referring to the refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh. “There are 800,000 people there, 200,000 of whom are children.”

“Our prayer must be strong: Lord, please touch the hearts of these people who worship God, the god of money,” he said. “And also touch my heart, so I don’t fall into this too, so that I can see.”

The Pope and the Dalai Lama: How Did We Get So Lucky?

In a newly published interview with Die Zeit, Pope Francis talks about many matters. Including his own faith. Asked about whether he ever doubts the existence of God, he said:

“I too know moments of emptiness.”

The current Pope shows us the honesty, humility, humor, wisdom and spirit we would like to see in all our traditions and in all our leaders—and in ourselves. The same can be said about the current Dalai Lama.

You don’t have to be a Roman Catholic or a Tibetan Buddhist to be inspired by these people. And just people they are, according to them, as the Pope reminds us in the same interview:

“I am a sinner and I am fallible. When I am idealized, I feel attacked.”

Pope Francis is 80. The Dalai Lama is 81. They will not live and serve forever, as much as we would be benefited by that gift. It is possible that both will be succeeded by their equal, but we can’t know that.

So let’s enjoy them and be inspired by them while they are here, wondering what we did to deserve this.

Pope: The Scandal of Christian Hypocrisy

Pope Francis

Scandal is saying one thing and doing another; it is a double life, a double life. A totally double life: ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this association and that one; but my life is not Christian, I don’t pay my workers a just wage, I exploit people, I am dirty in my business, I launder money…’

In a homily yesterday morning, Pope Francis said this:

“But what is scandal? Scandal is saying one thing and doing another; it is a double life, a double life. A totally double life: ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this association and that one; but my life is not Christian, I don’t pay my workers a just wage, I exploit people, I am dirty in my business, I launder money…’ A double life. And so many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others. How many times have we heard – all of us, around the neighborhood and elsewhere – ‘but to be a Catholic like that, it’s better to be an atheist.’ It is that, scandal. You destroy. You beat down. And this happens every day, it’s enough to see the news on TV, or to read the papers. In the papers there are so many scandals, and there is also the great publicity of the scandals. And with the scandals there is destruction….

“[Y]ou will arrive in heaven and you will knock at the gate: ‘Here I am, Lord!’ – ‘But don’t you remember? I went to Church, I was close to you, I belong to this association, I did this… Don’t you remember all the offerings I made?’ ‘Yes, I remember. The offerings, I remember them: All dirty. All stolen from the poor. I don’t know you.’ That will be Jesus’ response to these scandalous people who live a double life….

“It would be good for all of us, each one of us, today, to consider if there is something of a double life within us, of appearing just, of seeming to be good believers, good Catholics, but underneath doing something else; if there is something of a double life, if there is an excessive confidence: ‘But, sure, the Lord will eventually forgive everything, but I’ll keep going as I have been…’

Bernie Sanders and Pope Francis

Bernie Sanders at the Vatican

This kind-of-cute headline from Politico sort of says it all.

Bernie’s fanboy moment: A meeting with Pope Francis

As you may know, Bernie Sanders was invited to a conference at the Vatican on issues related to economic justice. He interrupted his New York campaign to attend, gave an excellent speech that frequently cited the Pope’s own writings, but was told that the Pope would not be able to meet with him and others at the conference.

Then, at the last minute, the Pope was able to meet for five minutes with Bernie and his wife Jane. It was thrilling to hear that. It is unimaginable to conceive what it must have been like for Bernie, who as the headline suggests, is a huge fan of the Pope and his thinking on economic issues.

In case you think this is all about electoral politics, think again.

A major American politician has met with the Pope, based on a shared vision of economic justice. That vision comes from a background of Jewish fairness and compassion in one case and from the deepest, most Jesus-based tenets of the Catholic Church in the other. This doesn’t happen every day, or month, or year.

It is a unique and sweet moment for those who care about the future of America and the world. If that sounds a little grandiose, maybe believing big is exactly what we need.

Vatican Newspaper Essays Say Women Should Preach at Mass

Calvi Alessandro, detto il Sordino, Caterina esorta Gregorio XI a tornare a Roma, sec. XVIII.jpg

When the news seems to suggest we may be moving backwards, the news seems to suggest we may be moving forward.

Vatican newspaper essays say women should preach at Mass
By David Gibson, Religion News Service:

A series of essays in the semiofficial Vatican newspaper is urging the Catholic Church to allow women to preach from the pulpit at Mass, a role that has been reserved almost exclusively to the all-male priesthood for nearly 800 years.

“This topic is a delicate one, but I believe it is urgent that we address it,” Enzo Bianchi, leader of an ecumenical religious community in northern Italy and a popular Catholic commentator, wrote in his article in L’Osservatore Romano.

“Certainly for faithful lay people in general, but above all for women, this would constitute a fundamental change in their participation in church life,” said Bianchi, who called such a move a “decisive path” for responding to widespread calls — including by Pope Francis — to find ways to give women a greater role in the church….

So what will Pope Francis do?

The pontiff has repeatedly called for women to have a greater role in the church, but he has also reiterated the ban against ordaining women as priests and has warned against “clericalizing” women by trying to make them cardinals or to focus on promoting them to higher church offices.

Then again, that the Vatican’s own newspaper would dedicate so much space to the issue of women preachers is intriguing, said Massimo Faggioli, a church historian at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

“I think it is a big signal,” he said.

Pope Francis, Kim Davis and Caesar

Caesar Coin

Pope Francis tried very hard in his U.S. visit to watch the line between moral guidance that has political effect and politics itself. He appears, maybe unwittingly, to have crossed the line. In a big way.

His visit with Kim Davis belies a misunderstanding of who she is and what she represents. It’s not that freedom of religious conscience is not an important issue. It’s that Kim Davis is the wrong poster person.

It appears from the context that he may have seen her in the line of great conscientious objectors. He reportedly thanked her for her courage and told her to be strong.

Kim Davis does have a religious conscience. And she does object to authorizing same-sex marriages. But there are two problems.

First, unlike true conscientious objectors, she doesn’t really want to suffer for her beliefs. Civil disobedients and conscientious objectors expect to be punished; sometimes they welcome it. But Kim Davis wants to have it both ways. Martin Luther King Jr. did not write in his letter from a Birmingham jail: For God’s sake, let me out of here. As far as we know, Kim Davis didn’t write any letters from her jail, at least not ones that will be in literary anthologies for the next fifty years.

The second problem is that her objection, at its heart, is that the Constitution and the Supreme Court are wrong, and that’s why she gets to keep her job and perform her duties as she sees fit. As a public servant, she is either explicitly by oath or implicitly by understanding sworn to uphold the Constitution. If she chooses not to, she has no privilege to hold that job, nor is she privileged to be free of sanction. That’s it.

Pope Francis, who I have expressed admiration for, may not understand that or the background of the Kim Davis saga. In that event, he should have followed the advice of Jesus in these situations:

‘Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’

Matthew 22:17-21 (NRSV)

For Me To Be A Saint Means To Be Myself: Thomas Merton and Pope Francis

Thomas Merton

In his speech to Congress, Pope Francis put Thomas Merton back in the public light, where he has long belonged as an American spiritual master:

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

Pope Francis, like Merton, is a natural. One of those players who finds their game and becomes a star because their nature brought them to it. This doesn’t mean there aren’t struggles on the way to greatness. On the contrary, the unceasing struggles are an essential part of their nature. At first we may be inspired by the worthy message and outward model. But ultimately, when we explore them, it is the dimensions and shading we come to admire. A child’s drawing is all black and white, a simple sketch. A master drafts with subtle and powerful lines and shadows, in which we see so much depth.

The Pope’s regard and mention of Merton in his speech to Congress is also natural. Merton chose to be a cloistered monk, then rebelled against his voluntary and self-imposed discipline. The demands of quiet and obedience to authority clashed with the imperative of a great writer freely writing and a great thinker freely thinking. Not gratuitous and loose writing and thought. Always guided by a compass that pointed both higher and back to an inescapable benevolent source, always grounded in the reality of daily life, strong and weak. That sort of creative independence in calling seems to mark Pope Francis too.

Merton died in 1968, almost exactly a year before Pope Francis was ordained. To say they would have loved to have met is understatement. Like many of us, Pope Francis met Merton in countless books, by and about him. In those writings, we learn that Merton was a mystic and a man. What else are saints anyway? “For me to be a saint is to be myself,” Merton said. We can’t be our better self without being our truer self, our littler self and our bigger self. No divine without human, the most and best human possible. It’s all about love and awareness. So Merton lived and wrote. So Pope Francis echoes in his life and his messages.

If you want to learn more about Merton, see The Thomas Merton Center. Among the overwhelming list of books, consider starting small with these:

Thomas Merton: Essential Writings

Love and Living, a collection of essays from the later days of his life.

An excerpt from Learning to Live, the first essay in Love and Living:

What I am saying is this: the score is not what matters. Life does not have to be regarded as a game in which scores are kept and somebody wins. If you are too intent on winning, you will never enjoy playing. If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted. If a university concentrates on producing successful people, it is lamentably failing in its obligation to society and to the students themselves…

The least of the work of learning is done in classrooms. I can remember scores of incidents, remarks, happenings, encounters that took place all over the campus and sometimes far from the campus: small bursts of light that pointed out my way in the dark of my own identity. For instance, Mark Van Doren saying to me as we crossed Amsterdam Avenue: “Well, if you have a vocation to the monastic life, it will not be possible for you to decide not to enter” (or words to that effect). I grasped at once the existential truth of this statement.

One other scene, much later on. A room in Butler Hall, overlooking some campus buildings. Daisetz Suzuki, with his great bushy eyebrows and the hearing aid that aids nothing. Mihoko, his beautiful secretary, has to repeat everything. She is making tea. Tea ceremony, but a most unconventional one, for there are no rites and no rules. I drink my tea as reverently and attentively as I can. She goes into the other room. Suzuki, as if waiting for her to go, hastily picks up his cup and drains it.

It was at once as if nothing at all had happened and as if the roof had flown off the building. But in reality nothing had happened. A very very old deaf Zen man with bushy eyebrows had drunk a cup of tea, as though with the complete wakefulness of a child and as though at the same time declaring with utter finality: “This is not important!”

The function of a university is to teach a man how to drink tea, not because anything is important, but because it is usual to drink tea, or, for that matter, anything else under the sun. And whatever you do, every act, however small, can teach you everything—provided you see who it is that is acting.

The Radical Book of Job

The Bible is a radical document. Just ask Pope Francis, who will be visiting the U.S. for Yom Kippur. Just ask the conservative critics of Pope Francis, who have been made very uncomfortable.

The Gospels particularly offer subversive guidelines for individuals and society. But there is also much of this in the Old Testament. Take the Book of Job.

As a Bible text, the book of Job is one of the most complex and challenging for biblical translators, interpreters and scholars. So it is no surprise that it has been boiled down in common understanding and tradition to a simple story. A good man suffers, his faith in God is shaken, God explains, the man renews his faith, God returns him to good fortune. End of story.

Except that is not what happens. There are many ways to interpret Job that look nothing like that. A number of characters appear, do a lot of talking, and offer divergent views of what Job should do in the face of his intolerable burden. Most infamously his wife, whose recommendation to her husband is “Curse God and die.” Someone named Elihu makes a late brief appearance (likely the result of a later addition to the book), offering his own take on things. And of course, God has (almost) the final word.

In his overview of Job in The Jewish Study Bible, Prof. Ed Greenstein reviews the possibilities, including this one:

A second, and arguably even more prevalent, theme in Job is that of honesty in talking about God. The book examines and tests the limits of appropriate speech. The test of Job is all about speech—will Job, severely afflicted with anguish and physical distress, “blaspheme [God] to [His] face” (1.11)? The dialogues, it goes without saying, consist only of speech—there is no action within them. Job’s companions continually denigrate the way he talks (e.g., 11.2–4), and he feels he must beg to be heard (13.13). Their view is shared by readers such as the Talmudic Sage Rav, who suggests that “dirt be put in Job’s mouth” to silence him.

But while the friends regard Job’s discourse as no more than hot air, “useless talk” (e.g., 15.2–3), Job takes pride in his absolute commitment to speaking only truth (see 27.3–4). The radical turning point in the book comes at its conclusion: God turns to Job’s companions and reproves them for not speaking “truthfully” (nekhonah is adverbial) about Him as Job “My servant” had done (42.7–8). Job may not have arrived at the truth, but he had reason to believe in what he was saying, as it came to him honestly, unlike the words of the companions, who merely repeated uncritically the wisdom they had received. Seen this way, the book of Job promotes honesty in theological discourse and rejects a blind reliance on tradition.

Promoting honesty in theological discourse and rejecting blind reliance on tradition. A radical approach we can consider this Yom Kippur, along with the universe of our humble introspections and pleas for forgiveness. A radical approach that Pope Francis seems very good at. A radical approach missing in the hot air and useless talk we hear from so many of our self-righteous public figures.

Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’

Laudato Si'

The Pope’s new encyclical, Laudato Si’, has been much in the news. Whatever you’ve heard about it, if you haven’t seen it, you really don’t know the whole story.

You’ve heard it is about the environment and climate change, which is in small part true. You’ve heard Catholic presidential hopefuls such as Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal admonish the Pope, their spiritual father, telling him to stick to religion and stay out of politics.

The encyclical is much bigger than climate change, the environment, and certainly bigger than Bush or Jindal or dozens of politicians. It is a big statement about the moral and religious shortcomings of this modern world and us modern people. You don’t have to be Catholic or Christian or faithful or religious to read and appreciate it. You just have to read it.

It is full of inconvenient and uncomfortable truths. Which is probably why the coverage has focused on the environmental exhortations, rather than on the broader cultural, media, technological and social ones. In essence, it is nothing less than a call for radical evolution, in the spirit of the radical evolutionary upon whom the church is built. There are plenty of established institutions and powerful interests and individuals, including the media, who could be forced to change if such radical evolution came to pass. And many of them don’t want to change, and don’t even want us to listen to the Pope talking about it.

The encyclical is a long and deep but very readable work. Download it, sample it. You don’t have to read it all, or all at once. It is naturally grounded in theology, and in some particular theology, but be assured that the observations and conclusions don’t require you to hold any sectarian beliefs. It only requires that we believe that things are far from perfect, and that after we take a close look at ourselves and others, we believe that we have the power and obligation to make things better.

It is filled with so much quotable inspired thought and inspiration. Here is just one brief excerpt:

114. All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.

Laudato Si’ PDF

Laudato Si’ epub and Kindle