Pope Francis opens the final section of his exhortation by steering between two false extremes. Earlier he noted that, “there can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord” (EG 110) and now he emphasizes that the first proclamation of the Gospel has immediate moral implications which are centered on charity (EG 177). Quoting the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pope Francis notes that the gospel has definite social implications (CSDC 52, EG 178).
Pope Francis highlights the “inseparable bond between our acceptance of the message of salvation and genuine fraternal love” as we see in Sacred Scripture (Matthew 25:40). We are called to be merciful as our Father is merciful (Luke 6:36, EG 179). The Gospel is “not merely about our personal relationship with God” but is the reign and rule of God in this world through his kingdom (Luke 4:43, EG 180). The charity of the Gospel encompasses all dimensions of existence, all individuals, all areas of community life, and all peoples (EG 181). Pope Francis notes that, “It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven” (EG 182). His earlier comments on the poor and the world’s the financial systems must be read in this light (EG 53-60).
While Pope Francis recommends reflecting on the entire message of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, he limits his discussion in this exhortation to two themes: the poor in society, and peace and social dialogue (EG 185). Our faith in the example of Christ is the “basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members” (EG 186). Our objective must be to see each Christian and every community as God’s instrument “for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society” (EG 187). The principle of solidarity helps us to recognize that “the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property” (EG 189). In this context “private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good” (EG 189). He notes that an inordinate appeal to human rights in our modern world “can be used as a justification for an inordinate defense of individual rights or the rights of the richer peoples” (EG 190). Instead, following the advice of Pope Paul VI, “the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others” (Octogesima Adveniens 23, EG 190). Pope Francis notes that this means promoting “education, access to health care and above all employment” (EG 192).
He notes that Christ, although he was rich, became poor for our sake (2 Corinthians 8:9). Against those who see this as a leftist or Marxist category, he remarks:
For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one. God shows the poor “his first mercy” (EG 198).
He notes that the focus of our programs cannot be merely on “promotion and assistance” but must also lead to “a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good” (EG 199). “Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care” (EG 200). At the same time “the need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed” (EG 202). All economic policies should be shaped by concern for the dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good (EG 203). While we must presuppose the need for economic growth, growth in justice requires “a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality” (EG 204).
Pope Francis calls for politicians to turn to God and to be open to “a new political and economic mindset which would help to break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society” (EG 205). While respecting the sovereignty of each nation modern economies must be aware the global consequences of their actions (EG 206) especially for the care for the vulnerable of the earth and to find creative ways to invest in efforts to help “the slow, the weak or the less talented to find opportunities in life” (EG 209). We are called to recognize the suffering Christ, in the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly, migrants (EG 210) in the victims of human trafficking, (EG 211) in mistreatment and violence against women (EG 212) and especially in concern for unborn children (EG 213). Creation itself is also vulnerable to “economic interests or indiscriminate exploitation” (EG 215).
On the subject of peace, Pope Francis notes, “Peace in society cannot be understood as pacification or the mere absence of violence resulting from the domination of one part of society over others” (EG 218). Concern for the poor and human rights cannot be suppressed by a wealthy minority since the “dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges” (EG 218). Nor is peace the mere absence of warfare, since “a peace which is not the result of integral development will be doomed” to spawn new conflicts and violence (EG 219). Responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in political life is a moral duty (EG 220). Pope Francis highlights four principles from the Church’s social teaching: time is greater than space (EG 222-223), unity prevails over conflict (EG 226-230), realities are more important than ideas (EG 231-233) and the whole is greater than the part (EG 234-237).
Pope Francis also highlights the role of social dialogue as a contribution to peace. He presents three areas of dialogue. He highlights the dialogue with states and the promotion of programs which support the dignity of each person and the common good (EG 239-241). He notes the importance of the dialogue with society – including culture and the sciences (EG 2423-243). He moves on to discuss ecumenical dialogue with other believers who are not part of the Catholic Church (EG 244-246), including Judaism (EG247-249) and other forms of interreligious dialogue (EG 250-254) as well as the importance of religious freedom (EG 255-258). Finally he highlights the role of the Holy Spirit in evangelization, the need for a personal encounter with the saving love of Christ, as well as the urgent need for a missionary outlook and intercessory prayer (EG 259-283). Finally the missionary efforts of the Church are put under the patronage Mary the Star of the New Evangelization.
Scott McKellar is Director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.