When Pope Francis wrote Evangelii Gaudium, he did not write simply about economic systems, but also about missions in this modern world and how best to present the Gospel. The following quotes come from his apostolic exhortation.
34. If we attempt to put all things in a missionary key, this will also affect the way we communicate the message. In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning. The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message. We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness. …
36. All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel. In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council explained, “in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith”. This holds true as much for the dogmas of faith as for the whole corpus of the Church’s teaching, including her moral teaching. …
38. It is important to draw out the pastoral consequences of the Council’s teaching, which reflects an ancient conviction of the Church. First, it needs to be said that in preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained. This would be seen in the frequency with which certain themes are brought up and in the emphasis given to them in preaching. For example, if in the course of the liturgical year a parish priest speaks about temperance ten times but only mentions charity or justice two or three times, an imbalance results, and precisely those virtues which ought to be most present in preaching and catechesis are overlooked. The same thing happens when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.
39. Just as the organic unity existing among the virtues means that no one of them can be excluded from the Christian ideal, so no truth may be denied. The integrity of the Gospel message must not be deformed. What is more, each truth is better understood when related to the harmonious totality of the Christian message; in this context all of the truths are important and illumine one another. When preaching is faithful to the Gospel, the centrality of certain truths is evident and it becomes clear that Christian morality is not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults. Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options. The message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have “the fragrance of the Gospel”.
In this passage, he insists that we must keep our preaching of the Gospel in perspective. In other writings he has spoken even more directly to this area. But, I like the sentence above which explains, “if in the course of the liturgical year a parish priest speaks about temperance ten times but only mentions charity or justice two or three times, an imbalance results, and precisely those virtues which ought to be most present in preaching and catechesis are overlooked.” This is a danger that is present for all priests, deacons, monks, nuns, and Protestant pastors. Each and every one of us has been guilty at one time or another of just this type of imbalance. And you know, it is an easy imbalance to fall into. All that is necessary is that we be exercised about a particular idea or a particular current issue and next thing you know, we have gotten our Gospel priorities wrong.
On a regular basis, we need to be reminded of what Our Lord Jesus Christ said:
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
Part of what the Pope is addressing is what has been a real problem for many here in the USA. And that is the problem of balance. Let’s look at how this is addressed later in the document:
214. Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?
Do you catch the balance that is present in that statement? Yes, we are against abortion. Of course we are. But, notice that the Pope also quickly and powerfully states that we are guilty for not having done what we ought to have done in order to defend and support and accompany “women in very difficult situations.” All too many times, we have been anti-abortion without also championing laws that would support a pregnant woman so that she would have viable options against abortion. Yesterday, I wrote about Pope Francis economic statements. Meanwhile, all too many of us have used our economic/political philosophies to say that we cannot possibly pass any laws that might help the women in any substantial way. It reminds me of what Jesus said:
He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites!
Sometimes our “traditions” are religious. But, as the Pope points out in his document, sometimes our traditions are economic. When we use our economic philosophy to deny aid to those most in need, we are hypocrites. When we use our political philosophy to insist that only one moral subject is important, “the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted …” Pope Francis has hit the nail on the head. All too many have been guilty of a serious imbalance. Worse, all too many have condemned their fellow Christians because they have not held the same economic and political views. Worst of all, all too many have condemned their fellow Christians even though they, too, are against abortion, euthanasia, etc., based simply on a political opinion that the fullness of the Gospel can best be expressed by voting in a way different than that approved by those who claim to be the “true” pro-life advocates. As Pope Francis points out, this is a wrong interpretation of Catholic social teaching. Let me argue that this is also a wrong way of interpreting Orthodox social teaching.
Again, thank you Pope Francis.