Lesson 10: The Spirit in Daily Life

It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere. VoltaireMy plan was to spend the summer casually examining Pope Francis’ theology. It seemed an easy assignment, simply posting summaries of readings I have been wanting to tackle.

Those hopes for some quiet academic study quickly went up in flames. Some respondents vociferously chided me for passing indifferently over life-and-death issues. Their chief argument was that academic discussion has become useless. In a time when so many people are being exploited and killed, Christians must fight power with power.

I found it impossible to ignore their protests, because the public conversation had turned so violent. Donald Trump, of course, remains the epitome of politicians on both sides who mercilessly demonize their opponents. However, Christian leaders have also taken to calling those who do not accept their position pagans. I am presently reeling after reading a perfect example yesterday. A respected professor whom I regarded as sophisticated and fair used one statement made by one person to claim the entire Democratic Party opposes essential Christian teaching. This led to almost a hundred of his followers labeling all democrats worshipers of Moloch and Herod. This kind of religious speech incites violence just as much as political rhetoric. I think it reflects what Jesus meant when he compared anger with murder in the Sermon on the Mount. Violence language puts us on the road to genocide.

Nonetheless, I still refuse to think Christ calls us to fight violence with violence. I cherish Francis’ claim that the primary Christian response to violence is gently assuring everyone around us that “It is good you exist” by using words like “please,” “thank you,” and “sorry.” Increasingly, I think many of us have forgotten how to live humanely and need above all else examples from those who do remember.

I find myself saying that whenever I read the detective stories written by Louise Penny. Her hero, Armand Gamache, claims that four sayings that lead eventually to wisdom are “I’m sorry,” “I was wrong,” “ I don’t know,” and “I need help.”  My first response is always “C’mon, everyone of us knows that.” My second is, “Oh no we don’t.”

I, at least, see Francis’ refusal to be judgmental as a needed contrast to Benedict’s insistence that we need to promote absolute doctrines. His refusal is not a retreat into relativism as if anything goes but instead an acknowledgment that truth must be tested in real life situations. Christianity is about living Christ’s way, not believing some doctrine.

Somehow many see this as compromising Christian commitment. In truth, we are talking about giving your life for a person, not a belief. Christ did not sacrifice himself for some theological issue but for you and me. So, too, his followers are willing to die for him and for other persons. The question has always been not for what but for whom you are willing to die.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. John Myers says:

    These ‘life-and-death’ issues have been around for millennia. So has insane violence and instruments of mass destruction. What has changed is our cocoon of freedom and instant communication/awareness. It has become very easy to inflame and use people. This causes exploitation of both those being used and those affected by them.

    Christ calling us to fight violence with violence? By all means, no! I look to the example in my life of MLK. There was no period in my life when societal social tensions were higher. Yet, he never backed away from the principle and example of non-violent protest. May that example shore up our resolve in these times……..

    • Fritz Foltz says:

      I completely agree with John’s response. In examining Francis’ theology I, of course, kept running into those who oppose his benevolent papacy. I was so disturbed at what I read, that I decided to end this series next week with an account of his opposition. The lesson follows John’s thought. Sadly, I found myself comparing the arguments made with Donald Trump’s political rhetoric. Mark and Father Jude shared this interpretation.

      I especially appreciate Sister Rita’s words : I read it (this lesson) with NPR’s “Morning Edition” on as background. This morning they broadcasted a story about how the area of Pisa, Italy, after almost a century of liberalism, has, like many other cities and nations, taken a sharp turn to the right. They forbade the building of a mosque for the Muslims who now are their neighbors. They called Pope Francis the anti-Christ for his condemnation of the world’s non-acceptance of refugees. As a cradle Catholic of almost eight decades, I was stunned at the vitriol, and I understood how you felt reading the responses of others to your plea for more than tolerance of the other, but even love.

      How we, many of whom are lifelong Christians, could have lost that core message of the Gospel breaks my heart. I do not deny that love comes at a cost, but we seem to have forgotten what that cost was. In a nation (and world) where we judge one’s worth by their bank account (or skin color), it is easy to justify our ejection because we can’t afford to be generous, to give when we are struggling ourselves, to love those who come from a culture that is foreign to our own. But the Gospel message is stark: I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me to drink, naked and you clothed me, homeless and you gave me shelter.

      If we fail to see Christ in these “others,” we miss seeing Him at all. Thank you for today’s lesson. There is reason to acknowledge that we must understand Scripture, theology, and Church history—but our first obligation is to love one another. The rest is always secondary.

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