January 17, 2021

The Humanitarian Gospel

The Humanitarian Gospel

Something has really been concerning me lately. It is the tendency of so many Catholics to seemingly only be concerned with the here and now--with this life. It is as if they are forgetting the Gospel and just worried about being humanitarian.

I mean, look at this from a recent encyclical, even:

Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church's very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature (cf. Mk 16:15).
Today this proclamation is especially pressing because of the extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples, especially where life is weak and defenseless. In addition to the ancient scourges of poverty, hunger, endemic diseases, violence and war, new threats are emerging on an alarmingly vast scale.
The Second Vatican Council, in a passage which retains all its relevance today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacks against human life. Thirty years later, taking up the words of the Council and with the same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience: "Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator".

It's just a big list of humanitarian concerns! It continues:

If, at the end of the last century, the Church could not be silent about the injustices of those times, still less can she be silent today, when the social injustices of the past, unfortunately not yet overcome, are being compounded in many regions of the world by still more grievous forms of injustice and oppression, even if these are being presented as elements of progress in view of a new world order.
The present Encyclical, the fruit of the cooperation of the Episcopate of every country of the world, is therefore meant to be a precise and vigorous reaffirmation of the value of human life and its inviolability, and at the same time a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person, in the name of God: respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness!
May these words reach all the sons and daughters of the Church! May they reach all people of good will who are concerned for the good of every man and woman and for the destiny of the whole of society!

Look at that, the pope just wants us to care about humans in this life, and he is asking us to cooperate even with people who are not Christians or Catholics--“all people of good will.”

And also:

To all the members of the Church, the people of life and for life, I make this most urgent appeal, that together we may offer this world of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love.

It sounds like he is only concerned with building an earthly utopia! What does this have to do with eternal life and the good of the Church??

And if you can believe it, he dares to, among many other things, assert that violence against our neighbor is a failure and that we ought to oppose war and also capital punishment:

At the root of every act of violence against one's neighbor there is a concession to the "thinking" of the evil one, the one who "was a murderer from the beginning" (Jn 8:44). As the Apostle John reminds us: "For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother" (1 Jn 3:11-12). Cain's killing of his brother at the very dawn of history is thus a sad witness of how evil spreads with amazing speed: man's revolt against God in the earthly paradise is followed by the deadly combat of man against man.
Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this. And it is precisely here that the paradoxical mystery of the merciful justice of God is shown forth.
… And how can we fail to consider the violence against life done to millions of human beings, especially children, who are forced into poverty, malnutrition and hunger because of an unjust distribution of resources between peoples and between social classes? And what of the violence inherent not only in wars as such but in the scandalous arms trade, which spawns the many armed conflicts which stain our world with blood? What of the spreading of death caused by reckless tampering with the world's ecological balance, by the criminal spread of drugs, or by the promotion of certain kinds of sexual activity which, besides being morally unacceptable, also involve grave risks to life? It is impossible to catalogue completely the vast array of threats to human life, so many are the forms, whether explicit or hidden, in which they appear today!

I could go on quoting, from this and many other recent encyclicals and other Church documents that show an apparently overweening concern about the here and now, that one could characterize as being “humanitarian” documents, especially the Compendium. But I won’t. And here is why. Because to make such a claim and insistence would be wrongheaded. It would be blatantly ignoring something that is at the core and essence of the Gospel and our response to it.

All of the above quotes are from Evangelium Vitae, by Pope St. John Paul II.  They could just as easily have been pulled from Fratelli Tuttibecause the message of our Magisterium is and has been consistent on these matters. And indeed, the command to love our neighbor comes from God himself. The contents of that command are enlightened not only in great length in the Law, Prophets, and Wisdom of the Old Testament, but also by Christ himself who tells us that at the Last Judgment, we will be judged on such “humanitarian” acts. (Read Matthew 25:31ff)

He similarly tells us that “whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” (Matt 10:42) And Catholics, contra the Protestant Reformers, have ever insisted on the indispensability of good works in true Christian life. St. James made this painfully clear (Jas 2:14-17):

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

I hope any Catholic reading this by now is falling asleep because we all take this for granted. We have heard it sooo much that it has become, in a sense, boring to us. “Yes. Yes. We know already!”

So why, then, has there been such a critical and negative reaction to Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, which is nothing else but urging “all people of good will” (just like Pope St. John Paul II did in EV) to make “the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love” an urgent priority for us?

What else is concern for ending abortion than a concern for the here and now? What else is concern about making and/or keeping abortion and euthanasia illegal but a concern for the here and now? What else is concern about stopping the redefinition of marriage in our laws but a concern for the here and now? Truly, all of these concerns could easily be criticized as being concerned with building a utopia here on earth! But no, they are the praiseworthy concerns for justice; they are manifestations of our response to God’s invitation and command to love our neighbors, as exemplified in the parable of the good Samaritan, which is the basis, along with the example of St. Francis, of Fratelli Tutti, as Pope Francis makes abundantly clear.

Pressing concerns about abortion, euthanasia, and sexual morality are not in any way opposed to concerns about poverty, war, welcoming the foreigner, capital punishment, and the rampant deleterious effects of globalization and lack of stewardship of God’s creation. They are all part of the same coherent, unified moral doctrine of our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We are obliged to be concerned about all of these and the urgent demands they all place upon us to act individually, corporately, and politically. To oppose concern about any one of them is to oppose the Gospel of Christ (Lu 4:17-19,21):

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him [Jesus Christ]. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

That is to say that in the person and Body of Christ (his Church), those goods named by Isaiah are to be fulfilled and realized. It is through his Incarnation, his Cross, his death and Resurrection—and through our participating in those—that we fulfill God’s justice and mercy. It is a work that will only be completed in the life to come, and yet we are commanded and called to strive to make it a reality today. God grants us the great blessing of being instruments of his mercy, and he commands us not to neglect that work. This should convict us and urge us to action using all the tools available to us to work for justice in the world (FT #165), and this is the message of our Holy Father in Fratelli Tutti.

Let those who are so quick to resist, dismiss, and criticize the voice of Christ speaking to us through our Holy Father (Luke 10:16, CCC 87) awaken and realize this inconsistency and, even, hypocrisy. It is nothing less than sinful. He who has ears, let him hear!

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I urge you with all sincerity and concern for your own souls and for no other reason, please take some time to honestly and, with an open mind, examine your consciences on this matter. There is great blessing in being—and it is our duty to be—docile to our pastors, most especially the Holy Father. Let us reject the spirit of rebellion (1 Sam 12:14-15, 15:23; Is 63:10; Prov 17:11; Lu 6:46; Rom 13:1-2). Let us reject dissension and discord, all gossip, enmity, rivalries, bitterness, and anger (1 Cor 1:10-13; Gal 5:19-21; Col 3:8; Phil 2:2-4; Eph 4:29-32; 1 Tim 2:8; Col 3:11-15; Ps 50:20).

I have offered many Scripture references above to meditate upon while pondering our own responses to our Holy Father (and also our bishops). I invite you to join me in slowly reading them over and over again and allowing them to permeate your heart and mind. Let these be our guide (Ps 119:105) in this time and always. I also greatly recommend taking a few steps back from social media and to consider how it may be inclining you towards sin. I offer this from my own recognition of this need in myself.

May the peace of Christ, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus! (Phil 4:7)