I just read Pope Francis’ new Apostolic Exhortation. Wow, Just wow. There is absolutely no room for the neocons or libertarians to spin this letter. None. While papal teaching has always been inherently radical – the principle of solidarity, of the primacy of labor over capital, of the preferential option for the poor, etc etc – it often has been cloaked in scholarly prose, in deliberately moderate tones, and even sometimes in ambiguity. Not Francis. Plain-spoken, direct, the pope of the poor and of the people. There is no way that this can be spun. The Acton Institute’s website is strangely silent. Nothing yet from First Things. I joked that the pope’s first encyclical would be called “Anathema Sirico”. Well, instead of an encyclical, addressed to the whole world, we got an Apostolic Exhortation, addressed to the Church, and while its title is “The Joy of the Good News” it might as well have the title I suggested. Sorry if I seem to be gloating; this feels like victory after a long (since ’79, when I returned to the Catholic Church) war.
Several people have cautioned me that this does not spell the end of neoconservatism, nor of Catholic libertarianism. “After all, it is not infallible, you know”. Well, yes; little is. But no one ever again will be able to say that free market ideology is “Papal Economics”, the unfortunate title of Fr Zieba’s book. Poor guy, publishing an apologia for market capitalism with that title about fifteen minutes before the actual pope demolishes his thesis.
And while much will be made, rightly, over the social and economic implications of the pope’s prophetic work, the opening paragraphs read like a personal letter to anyone beyond the initial stages of faith: a call to return to Jesus Christ, to embrace the “joy of the gospel”. This pope is nothing if not a radical: watering the roots, returning to the basics, putting all things in perspective.
I will be writing more about this letter; again I must be off to work.
If you had asked me, a year ago, to design my ideal pope, I could not have come up with a better one. Including the name. Thanks be to God!