The secular media almost went berserk last month when Pope Francis gave a lengthy and detailed interview to La Civilta Cattolica and it was published in other Jesuit publications around the world. Their superficial reaction was that the Church was going to stop being so involved in issues such as abortion and same sex marriages and would turn to more popular social issues. They could not have been more wrong.
Popes do not change Catholic doctrine but an individual pope may decide to shift the emphasis that he is taking on this or that subject. And what is Pope Francis emphasizing?? Poverty. He is directing the Roman Catholic Church, spread across the world, to make its main concern the alleviation of an agonizing poverty that spreads across the entire planet but is especially present in South America and the urban centers of the developed world. Catholic moral theologians are beginning to study this and other recent documents that Pope Francis has put out and are beginning to see the very dramatic direction that they are taking.
The Church has always called its members to individual spiritual conversion. We are all called by baptism to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. The pope is presenting us with a greater challenge, an invitation to cultural conversion and the pope has outlined three false cultures that materialism has created in our world. Bishop Robert McElroy, the Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco, has done us a favor by breaking down this thrust into three segments. In the October 21st issue of America magazine Bishop McElroy stated, our Holy Father has laid bare, “Three false cultures that materialism has created in the world. The first is the culture of comfort that makes us think only of ourselves. Second is the culture of waste that seizes the gifts of the created order only to savor them for a moment and then discard them. Finally, the culture of indifference that desensitizes us to the suffering of others no matter how intense, no matter how sustained.”
Who can argue with the accuracy of this evaluation? Watch the TV ads, look at the signs along the highway. The customer has to have the exact degree of softness or firmness in our mattresses. The furniture in our homes and cars must be exactly what we desire as individuals.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any one of these things but it becomes wrong when we allow ourselves to enjoy this culture of comfort and at the same time making us oblivious to the unnecessary deaths of millions of children and a destructive force of terrible diseases that we know that could be easily eradicated in North America and Europe if we were willing to share our awesome resources.
The need for cultural conversion is made also obvious by the second false culture, the culture of waste that is reflected in our restaurants, our second homes and any uneaten food pouring out the back doors of our homes and restaurants. This inordinate desire of comfort and the indifference to waste culminate into the culture of indifference which desensitizes us to the suffering of others no matter how intense, no matter how sustained.
Let me again quote Bishop McElroy. “The United States and the richest nations of world community have a moral responsibility to share from their plenty with the poorest people within the human family. In 2002, the wealthy nations of the world pledged to direct 0.7% of their gross domestic product towards the alleviation of dire poverty by the year 2015. This level of investment could have largely eliminated poverty on the planet. However, the United States and most other leading economic powers have reneged on their commitment. Today the United States only gives 0.2% of its gross domestic product in development assistance.”
How long will we be able to see the deaths of millions of children taking place unnecessarily across the world while we continue to spend on our luxury cars, pets, lawns and nails!
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