Saturday, February 15, 2014


   In his recent encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, (The Joy of the Gospels) Pope Francis criticized "trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world."  Francis goes on to say that this opinion has never been confirmed by the facts.

   Some critics immediately jumped to the conclusion that Francis was criticizing capitalism itself.  One critic proclaimed that capitalism, compared to other systems, does very well at bringing people out of poverty.  Fine!  I'm sure Francis would agree.  But Francis was not criticizing capitalism itself; he was criticizing an abuse of capitalism.  This critic was so caught up in his commitment to capitalism that he badly missed the pope's very important point.

   Francis is a man of deep and clear spiritual discernment.  For one thing, he knows it is not his job to tell any country what system of economics to use.  However, it is very much his job to discern any form of economic injustice within any system.  In sum, his job is not economics as such; it's spirituality and justice for all, with special concern for the poor.  So when he speaks of economics, his insight starts in eternity, permeates our space/time economics, and then uses the spiritual disciplines, e.g., order, justice, service to others, etc., to elevate economic systems and policies to the eternal principles of humanity and justice.

   Another critic got so upset over Francis' critique that he excitedly asked, "Where are these unhampered markets?" and "Where is the market absolutely autonomous?"  These questions, which are sadly free of any spiritual discernment of Francis' words, are an insult to the pope.  Francis obviously knows, along with everyone else, that there is no totally free market.  He is speaking of an assumption concerning a free market.

   I'm no economist but I can ask, "How would a totally unhampered market work?" and confidently come up with a plausible answer.  A point of our faith helps me:  here in space/time nothing is perfect.  Everything has an element of darkness, a "shadow-side," and will therefore inevitably stumble and fall along its way.  So a totally unregulated market would inevitably falter and cause economic harm.  In fact, even a regulated market will stumble at times.

   In the economic meltdown of 2008, our point of faith was confirmed by a sad and rugged insight:  Alan Greenspan, the past chairman of the Federal Reserve, lamented that the self-interest of the economic institutions didn't make them capable of protecting their shareholders and themselves.  Do not Francis' critics have ears to hear and eyes to see? (Mt. 13:9-16).

   Self-centered ideology and spiritual blindness easily make us susceptible to superficiality and to the high pitched propaganda that is being spewed by too many politicians--sadly, some of whom are Catholics--and by many radio and TV personalities.  Francis is showing us the importance of deep and clear, peace-and-justice filled spiritual discernment in our everyday lives.  And he is calling us to put our discernment into prophetic action for economic justice, with special care for the poor.  


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