New Wisdom of Pope Francis podcast episode. Listen at these places and more:
Hi! Welcome to another episode of the Wisdom of Pope Francis podcast, a podcast where we dive into the teachings of Pope Francis and ask ourselves what his teachings mean for us in our daily lives and what they also mean for the church and world at large.
I am your host, Catholic Anonymous. And I have been going through Pope Francis’ latest encyclical or letter to the church and world called Fratelli Tutti. This sort of glorified letter, as well as his previous one Laudato Si’, are addressed to Catholics, but they also attempt to start a dialogue with those who are not Catholic. They address issues like the environment, poverty, and human trafficking – issues that matter to people all over the world, religious or not.
So even if you’re an atheist, my hope, and I think Pope Francis’ hope, is that this encyclical will move forward the conversation we always need to be having about what a good and just society looks like. One that works for everyone and not just the few who can afford it.
Of course, now that I’ve said that, currently, I’m going through chapter 2 in Fratelli Tutti, where Pope Francis looks more deeply into the meaning of Jesus’ story on the Good Samaritan. It’s probably one of Jesus’ most famous stories, and if you don’t know it, I would say pause this episode and listen to the podcast episode just before this one or read it for yourself in the Bible. It’s in the Gospel of Luke chapter 10, verses 25 to 37. I don’t want to take up any time here going over it again, though, so my apologies if you are checking this podcast out for the first time and are not familiar with it.
In the second part of chapter 2, Pope Francis takes a closer look at all the characters in Jesus’ story and tries to sort of find us in there. And he encourages us to do the same. This is a method of reading the Bible that can yield a lot of really rich insights – where you kind of put yourself in the story and think, “How am I like this person? How am I like that person?”
He begins by talking about those who pass by the man who was robbed. If you remember the story, the two who passed the man by and didn’t help him were good Jewish people – or so you would think. One was a priest. The other was a Levite. Levites were part of the priestly caste in Israel. So even here, Jesus is being kind of subversive. The “bad guys” so to speak were those who were respected and ought to have been in a position to know well what God wanted of them. But they are the ones who pass the half-dead man by without helping him.
Pope Francis says that this is what this illustrates:
It shows that belief in God and the worship of God are not enough to ensure that we are actually living in a way pleasing to God. A believer may be untrue to everything that his faith demands of him, and yet think he is close to God and better than others.Article 70
Then, to pour salt on the wounds for us Catholics, he states
Paradoxically, those who claim to be unbelievers can sometimes put God’s will into practice better than believers.Article 70
Ouch. Ok, that’s a little too painful. I’m just going to go on.
Something that really struck me as I was reading this was the way he ties this to how we as a society deal with the poor. Listen to this:
There are many ways to pass by at a safe distance: we can retreat inwards, ignore others… or simply look elsewhere, as in some countries, or certain sectors of them, where contempt is shown for the poor and their culture, and one looks the other way, as if a development plan imported from without could edge them out. This is how some justify their indifference: the poor, whose pleas for help might touch their hearts, simply do not exist. The poor are beyond the scope of their interest.Article 73
“Development plan.” I really wonder what he means by that, because what it makes me think of is the way we actually develop our cities – the way certain neighborhoods became gated sanctuaries of the rich and others become ghettoes of the poor. You can spend your whole life in one community and never know the other exists, if you don’t want to.
I grew up in a neighborhood that didn’t have a lot of homeless people. The price range was simply out of reach of poorer individuals or families. But a few years after I got married, my family and I moved to the city in California we live in now. We didn’t have a lot of money, so I got what I thought was a not-so-bad unit in an apartment complex at a really affordable price.
Well, the reason it was so affordable was that it was probably one of the sketchiest places to live in our city. We were there for six months, and there were two shootings in the complex – one probably just about ten or twenty feet from my front door. I met prostitutes. I met kids who spent most of their days running around unsupervised. And none of this is to say that the people I met were unkind or disrespectful. The kids played with my kids really well. But we were just all poor and all in the same place together.
We got out of there and moved then to a place that was barely a mile away from our old place, and it was on the border of one of the wealthiest parts of the city. And it was night and day. The richer part of town was like a Garden of Eden. No sidewalks, well-paved roads, over-hanging trees, million-dollar homes. It was so bizarre.
And reading this chapter now, it makes me think of how isolated we can make ourselves so that we simply never see the poor. In our minds, they just end up not existing because we are able to separate ourselves into different neighborhoods, different classes, different schools, different communities. They literally cease to be our neighbors. We just don’t see them.
Ok, so up till now, this episode has been a bit of a downer. And, like he did in chapter 1, he sort of hits us with everything. It’s overwhelming. But the intent is not to make us wallow in self-pity or sorrow at how messed up the world is. Nor is it to make us feel horrible about ourselves. It’s meant to encourage us to do something. ANd he gives some good advice about how we can begin living a life where we see the poor and do something about the “dark clouds” he mentions in chapter 1.
We can start from below and, case by case, act at the most concrete and local levels, and then expand to the farthest reaches of our countries and our world, with the same care and concern that the Samaritan showed for each of the wounded man’s injuries…. Difficulties that seem overwhelming are opportunities for growth, not excuses for a glum resignation that can lead only to acquiescence…. Let us stop feeling sorry for ourselves and acknowledge our crimes, our apathy, our lies. Reparation and reconciliation will give us new life and set us all free from fear.Article 78
And that, in the end, is where the Catholic life is supposed to lead: freedom. Not just freedom from fear, but freedom from our egos, freedom from being chained to the love of money, freedom from sin. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and that they might have it abundantly.” Living a life where we take time to care for those less advantaged leads to that spiritually free and abundant life Jesus talks about.
I think the question I’ve been asking myself constantly since I started doing this podcast is what Pope Francis mentions in that quote: what is the concrete, local action I can take to benefit those in need? And I think, especially during this time of Advent and during this pandemic, when at least us Catholics are all home and taking stock of our spiritual lives, that’s a good place for us to start. It’s a good question for us to contemplate.
Well, that’s it for this episode. Thank you for listening. I hope it’s been in an encouragement and challenge for you as it has been for me.
Before I go, I just want to let you know I have a new book out called “Wrestling with God.” It’s a short story, fiction – under 7000 words – that looks at the prayer lives of three characters, a mother, father, and their daughter. And it explores the different contours our relationship with God can take, the ways we move towards and away from him, the ways we wrestle with what he wants for us in our lives. I hope you check it out. You can read the first chapter at catholicanonymous.blog (I’ll leave a link in the description for this episode). and if you like that chapter, you can download it for Kindle at Amazon.com.
Thank you for listening. Till next week, God bless.
©2020 Catholic Anonymous
New book out! Wrestling with God
Video Meditations on the Catholic Faith