I applaud Pope Francis for eschewing fancy digs, fancy wheels and the excesses of wealth. He talks it — and he walks it. Importantly, it’s that combination of both word and deed that I and 1.1 billion others around the world who call ourselves Catholics most appreciate.
We don’t have a problem with priests whose homilies contain ideas we know we can’t attain. We recognize that we live imperfect lives within the confines of imperfect systems. We see ourselves as sinners, yet maintain our collective and individual right to dream big when it comes to our fellow man. We pray for a kind of Utopia, even if it bares no resemblance to our earthly reality.
The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor.
In short, we as Catholics can separate our reality from our ideology for the sake of our social doctrine. It’s who we are. From ourselves we expect rigid and real truths based on the reality of the world we live in, while from our spiritual leaders we expect a sort of heavenly exhortation much as Francis delivered in his recent Evangelii Gaudium.
It explains why, unlike many of our conservative brethren, we don’t recoil when we hear Francis’s criticism of our current economic and political systems, nor his stinging rebuke of the disparities between rich and poor.
“Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless,” said the Pope, recently named Time magazine's Person of the Year. “As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
Pope Francis did not stop there. Here he takes a shot at the “imbalance (that) is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”
And in defense of mixed economies he says this: “They reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.”
Many hear these words and see a Marxist, as might I if we were debating a governor, senator, congressperson or president. I see a man of faith, a kindler of hope, a believer in a kind of perfect world that may be bigger than all of us.
To those who call him names, Francis fires back: “The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor.”
“But what happens instead is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger (and) nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the church’s social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist.”
Francis is not a Marxist. A dreamer, perhaps, and that is exactly as I want him.