Investing is power. Where we choose to focus our resources – it matters. That’s why I’m always interested in where our leaders are investing their own resources – their time, attention, energy, finances, and material resources. Last week Pope Francis released his first long publication, the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), and it is a doozy. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in the Catholic Church, this is worth reading, I promise.
Full text of the document can be found here.
It is a long document, and yes, the Pope is still Catholic, so any given reader is likely to find a few passages with which she disagrees. Still, a message of joy and connection and caring and service, from the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion people? This is deeply encouraging, and inspiring.
Here are just a few highlights I took from the exhortation:
I don’t know about you, but I have been part of too many sermons (both in and out of church) that have been completely devoid of joy. Apparently, the Pope has, too.
There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter… The biggest threat of all gradually takes shape: the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness. A tomb psychology thus develops and slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum. Disillusioned with reality, with the Church and with themselves, they experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope, which seizes the heart like “the most precious of the devil’s potions”. Called to radiate light and communicate life, in the end they are caught up in things that generate only darkness and inner weariness, and slowly consume all zeal.
The real world, not the closed-off halls of the Vatican. This aligns with the Pope’s decision to live in the Vatican guesthouse instead of the papal apartments, and to take meals in the common dining room instead of in seclusion. This (re)connection of church and life is also reflected in the Pope’s writing, including an extended examination of the links between our economy and our society.
More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, ‘Give them something to eat.’
We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power…. Today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “disposable” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”… A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules… Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. Money must serve, not rule! I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.
Lest the commentary on our current world prove too bleak, the Pope outlines four specific principles that form the basis of reconciliation for some of the central conflicts of our time.
Here we see a first principle for progress: time is greater than space. This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give a priority to time. One of the faults which we occasionally observe in sociopolitical activity is that spaces and power are preferred to time and processes. Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion; it is to crystallize processes and presume to hold them back. Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces. Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return. What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.
Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective, our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart. In the midst of conflict, we lose our sense of the profound unity of reality. In this way it becomes possible to build communion amid disagreement, but this can only be achieved by those great persons who are willing to go beyond the surface of the conflict and to see others in their deepest dignity. This requires acknowledging a principle indispensable to the building of friendship in society: namely, that unity is greater than conflict. Solidarity, in its deepest and most challenging sense, thus becomes a way of making history in a life setting where conflicts, tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity. This is not to opt for a kind of syncretism, or for the absorption of one into the other, but rather for a resolution which takes place on higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides.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. Nor does true peace act as a pretext for justifying a social structure which silences or appeases the poor, so that the more affluent can placidly support their lifestyle while others have to make do as they can.
There also exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out. There has to be continuous dialogue between the two, lest ideas become detached from realities. It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone, of images and rhetoric. So a third principle comes into play: realities are greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom. This principle impels us to put the word into practice, to perform works of justice and charity which make that word fruitful. Not to put the word into practice, not to make it reality, is to build on sand, to remain in the realm of pure ideas and to end up in a lifeless and unfruitful self-centredness and gnosticism.
The whole is greater than the part, but it is also greater than the sum of its parts. There is no need, then, to be overly obsessed with limited and particular questions. We constantly have to broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all. But this has to be done without evasion or uprooting. We need to sink our roots deeper into the fertile soil and history of our native place…There are other weak and defenseless beings who are frequently at the mercy of economic interests or indiscriminate exploitation. I am speaking of creation as a whole. We human beings are not only the beneficiaries but also the stewards of other creatures. Thanks to our bodies, God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement. Let us not leave in our wake a swath of destruction and death which will affect our own lives and those of future generations.
In years to come I hope Pope Francis and his work will be seen as just one example of a broader re-valuing, an elevation of humble, authentic moral leadership, true servant-leadership. The kind of leadership that can redirect and reconnect our investments – in all of their forms – towards truly profitable outcomes for all.