A bit ago I wrote about the legacy of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI with regard to the social teaching of the Church. I wrote that he understood that those theologies which insist on making the social teaching into a political theology for socio-economic upheaval miss the whole point. The social teaching must be based on the truth, the truth of Christ Jesus and on nothing more. Jesus is sufficient, after all, to be the source of all the motivation we need to love the poor. But the point is that in the “dictatorship of relativism” love is emptied of any permanent meaning and can then be filled with evil gussied-up to look like charity.
Pope Francis, it seems, will pick up this teaching from Benedict and will run with it.
My Costa Rican mother was elated to discover we now have un Papa Latinamericano. So she went looking for everything she could read about the Holy Father in the Argentinean newspapers. She discovered some sermons of his which she shared with me. Truly I can say that the voice of this Holy Father is the voice of the Church.
In a sermon he gave at the Cathedral in Buenos Aires last May, Cardinal Bergoglio said:
“When there is not love, with what ease is the conscience numbed! Such a numbness of conscience indicates a stupor of the spirit and of life. We bring into our lives and, much worse, into the lives of our children and our youth, the magical and destructive solutions of drugs (both legal and illegal), of legalized gambling, of easy medication, the hollow banalities of shows and a fetishistic concern for the body. We are enclosed in a narcissistic and consumerist prison. And to our elderly, who are in this narcissism and consumerism made to be disposable things, we throw them on the dust heap of existence. Thus it is, that which lacks love founds a ‘culture of the dust heap.’ That which is of no use, throw away.”
These are tough words for the Western world, for the first world that is ever-so-concerned with its pastimes. The Cardinal-turned-Holy Father goes on to speak about our cowardice made manifest when we look away from the suffering of the poor. He points out the irony that we cannot suffer weakness in our society and yet it is exactly the acceptance of our own impotence that is the beginning of wisdom.
The Cardinal, who battled with the government of Argentina quite regularly, had some harsh words for the media as well. He said:
“This exclusion [of love], truly a social anesthesia, is reinforced, in part, by the identity politics in the media discourse which denigrates all who do not agree with the contemporary ideology and fashion….”
That sums up the attitude of the mainstream media alright. Those who do not conform are to be ridiculed.
But the Cardinal sees that the “social anesthesia” which plagues the world is also a result of the breakdown of the family. Indeed, this lack of love is a problem of families that no longer experience a kind of love that knows commitment. There is no firm and lasting love anymore. At the heart of the problem, children continue to be brought into the world disoriented by “adults who do not know how to love,” he says. This resonates with the teaching of Benedict. When love is empty of truth, it is a false love an ephemeral love.
Of course, the answer is the Cross of Jesus Christ. Of course, it is he that is Truth that is the source of love. “The real power,” says Bergoglio:
“is love, that which empowers others, that which arouses action, that which no chain is able to hold back, for even on the Cross or on the death bed one is able to love. One does not need youthful beauty, nor recognition or approval, nor money or prestige. Let love simply bloom… and it is unstoppable.”
There is much more to the sermon, which is a tour de force, but suffice it to say that I am very excited about the kind of message this Pontiff will bring to the world. Indeed, I think he will liberate the social teaching from the shackles of presumption and confusion that weigh it down. I am confident that his presentation of the teaching will free it from those on the political left who have held the teaching hostage for so long. Several people have commented, after all, on his firm opposition to abortion and gay marriage. But I am also sure that his message of hope and love will also be a message challenging the political right to dig deeper and live for more than winning the argument against big, bad government. And I am positive that his teaching will challenge all Catholics to make our faith obvious to the world.
Hold on folks, this will be a bumpy and gloriously wonderful ride.