Sunday, December 8, 2013

Memo from NYC

Pope Francis rules.

Literally -- he rules the nation of Vatican City and the worldwide Roman Catholic church.

But he also rules.

When Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was elected the 266th Supreme Pontiff in March, he made history as the first Pope from the Americas and the first non-European Pope in almost
1000 (that's right, a thousand) years. First thing he did: paid his hotel bill before moving into the Vatican full time. Then, instead of the lavish papal apartments, he took up residence in a dorm room. Instead of eating in his own private dining room, he eats in a cafeteria. But it's not all symbolic: he has said that his goals as pope are to focus the church's work on helping the poor, sick and elderly. Since then, he has said that he will not judge gay people, wants to reach out to atheists, and help single mothers. Also, he has said that the church shouldn't spend all its time obsessing over divisive social issues like abortion. Oh, and he's also rooting out the corruption in the Catholic hierarchy and bank.


In less than a year, Pope Francis has shaken up the world's oldest organized religion and is refashioning it for the 21st century.

Recently, he published a "papal exhortation" which brilliantly dismantles the argument that raw capitalism is a force for good. Specifically, he says that no economic system should practice exclusion but be geared towards inclusion i.e. everyone should benefit from it. Better than President Obama or Mayor-elect De Blasio or any other politicians, Pope Francis brilliantly sums up the problem of economic inequality:
"Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “Thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality."

He also makes an appeal to the essential nature of the Christian faith, that we must not worship anything else besides God and our fellow man. Money, in his view, as become the new idolatry:

"While the earnings of the minority are growing exponentially, so, too, is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. The imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation…. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules…. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything that stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule ... Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect, and promote the poor. I exhort you to a generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings."

(If President Obama said stuff like this, he'd probably be a whole lot more popular.)

What amazes me and so many around the world is that this Pope not only preaches his faith but also lives it and uses it as the compass for his work. He walks the walk while he talks the talk and is getting the job done. Like a truly great communicator, he is striking back at a world where money rules and insists that only our common humanity must rule.

Naturally, conservatives hate him. Oh man, they are out there calling this Pope a Marxist and all sorts of mean nasty stuff. But in doing so, they expose their true nature. They are not really religious, they are not truly people of faith -- they worship money, power, materialism, and themselves. They see religion as a tool to divide people, to acquire power and riches, not to improve humanity.

Case in point: former President Bush. Supposedly the most openly religious president we ever had, he always droned on about how much he loved God and how He had saved him. But his presidency exposed his true loves: war, tax cuts for the rich, eliminating worker protections, denying people health insurance, screwing up disaster relief, politicizing the justice department. This is a man of faith? This is how his faith led him to govern? He was never really a man of faith, he was a man of power. I always remember that annoying smirk on his face proved to me, more than anything else, what a fraud he was. What kind of a man of faith smirks?

Not this Pope. Whenever you see Pope Francis smile, you see a man genuinely motivated by his faith. When you're the real deal, you don't have to fake it. His manner of living and his work prove it. He's an inspiration.

Now I'm not Catholic or particularly religious. I still disagree with the Catholic Church's doctrines on gay marriage, abortion, contraception, and the role of women. Pope Francis isn't changing any of this and it'll probably be generations before any future pope does. But Pope Francis is talking about the most important issues facing the world right now and he's doing it brilliantly. He is showing what a true man of faith is all about. And in these trouble times, it's amazing to see.

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