Totally Missing the Pope Francis Story, Yet Again

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

This morning, Pope Francis met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and other United Nations officials. He sounded some familiar themes of his past 14 months as pontiff. He admonished our “throwaway culture,” he talked about the need for “solidarity” with the suffering, and the need to serve the poor. In his talks with Catholics and all people of good will, he injects the Beatitudes even into more secular context. The Beatitudes are who he is, why Catholics are who we are, and they just so happen to make the world more tender and compassionate.

So, of course, the first Associated Press story that hits the wires makes no mention of anything Pope Francis had to say about the “culture of death,” but runs the headline “Pope urges ‘legitimate redistribution’ of wealth by the state to poor in spirit of generosity.”

I get it, we run with what we’re comfortable with. So now the Left can be content to believe that the pope is not challenging, but endorsing, say, a midterm political platform. Anyone, however, who listens to this pope in context and is not challenged simply isn’t listening. As a spiritual and practical matter, I’m challenged by him daily — and I am far from alone. That’s what a good priest does! He’s a doctor of souls and as a world leader unpacks some of the propositions (and mandates, for those who call ourselves Christians) of the Gospel with some urgency. 

For anyone curious about what the pope actually said, here’s the meat of the translation up on, the place to go if you’re looking for context to wild headlines about Pope Francis:

An essential principle of management is the refusal to be satisfied with current results and to press forward, in the conviction that those gains are only consolidated by working to achieve even more. In the case of global political and economic organization, much more needs to be achieved, since an important part of humanity does not share in the benefits of progress and is in fact relegated to the status of second-class citizens. Future Sustainable Development Goals must therefore be formulated and carried out with generosity and courage, so that they can have a real impact on the structural causes of poverty and hunger, attain more substantial results in protecting the environment, ensure dignified and productive labor for all, and provide appropriate protection for the family, which is an essential element in sustainable human and social development. Specifically, this involves challenging all forms of injustice and resisting the “economy of exclusion”, the “throwaway culture” and the “culture of death” which nowadays sadly risk becoming passively accepted.

With this in mind, I would like to remind you, as representatives of the chief agencies of global cooperation, of an incident which took place two thousand years ago and is recounted in the Gospel of Saint Luke (19:1-10). It is the encounter between Jesus Christ and the rich tax collector Zacchaeus, as a result of which Zacchaeus made a radical decision of sharing and justice, because his conscience had been awakened by the gaze of Jesus. This same spirit should be at the beginning and end of all political and economic activity. The gaze, often silent, of that part of the human family which is cast off, left behind, ought to awaken the conscience of political and economic agents and lead them to generous and courageous decisions with immediate results, like the decision of Zacchaeus. Does this spirit of solidarity and sharing guide all our thoughts and actions?

Today, in concrete terms, an awareness of the dignity of each of our brothers and sisters whose life is sacred and inviolable from conception to natural death must lead us to share with complete freedom the goods which God’s providence has placed in our hands, material goods but also intellectual and spiritual ones, and to give back generously and lavishly whatever we may have earlier unjustly refused to others.

The account of Jesus and Zacchaeus teaches us that above and beyond economic and social systems and theories, there will always be a need to promote generous, effective and practical openness to the needs of others. Jesus does not ask Zacchaeus to change jobs nor does he condemn his financial activity; he simply inspires him to put everything, freely yet immediately and indisputably, at the service of others. Consequently, I do not hesitate to state, as did my predecessors (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 42-43; Centesimus Annus, 43; BENEDICT XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 6; 24-40), that equitable economic and social progress can only be attained by joining scientific and technical abilities with an unfailing commitment to solidarity accompanied by a generous and disinterested spirit of gratuitousness at every level. A contribution to this equitable development will also be made both by international activity aimed at the integral human development of all the world’s peoples and by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.

Consequently, while encouraging you in your continuing efforts to coordinate the activity of the international agencies, which represents a service to all humanity, I urge you to work together in promoting a true, worldwide ethical mobilization which, beyond all differences of religious or political convictions, will spread and put into practice a shared ideal of fraternity and solidarity, especially with regard to the poorest and those most excluded.

During a week that included a U.N. committee suggesting the Holy See is guilty of torture – a veiled attempt to stifle the voice of the premier enemy of a secularism with an increasingly intolerant, authoritarian streak, even in the United States — the story this morning is one of a rebuke of secularism and stubborn ideological selfishness. Not for the first time, Pope Francis seeks to renew man’s commitment to his brother. Not as a political platform or ideological crutch, but as the reality of our lives together here. Let that inform our politics: A commitment to human dignity, to help men and women flourish; to keep challenging ourselves, and to only want what works to help our brothers and sisters flourish.

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