Pope Francis appealed for the overcoming of social avarice and indifference and called for a “spirit of poverty,” which is the key to the happiness of all.
His words came in a message to those who participated in the conference held in the Vatican on October 3-4 entitled “Caritas, Social Friendship, and the End of Poverty: Science and Ethics of Happiness, organized by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
At the beginning of his message, the Pontiff points out that “today we meet with a prevailing, widely spread paradigm, by the ‘unique thought,” which confuses utility with happiness, to enjoy oneself and live well, and which attempts to become the sole valid criterium of discernment. It is a subtle form of ideological colonialism. An attempt is made to impose the ideology according to which happiness consists only in the useful, in things and in goods, in the abundance of things, of fame and of money.”
“This situation is the cause of enormous sufferings and, at the same time, attacks the dignity of people and of the planet, our common home. All this with the interest to sustain the tyranny of money that only guarantees privileges to a few. We can be very attached to money, have many things, but in the end, we won’t take it with us,” he argues.
“Being aware of the enormous resources of money, wealth and technology that we have, our greatest need is neither to continue accumulating, nor greater wealth, nor more technology but the carry out the ever new and revolutionary paradigm of the Jesus’ Beatitudes,” beginning with poverty of spirit, says the Pope.
“However, pay attention, Jesus does not say that ‘material’ poverty is a blessing, understood as privation of what is necessary to live worthily: food, work, housing, health, clothes, education, opportunities, etc. This poverty is caused in the majority of cases by injustice and avarice, and not so much by the forces of nature (global warming, disasters, pandemics, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, etc.), what is more, in some of the latter not infrequently human manipulation is also perceived.”
The poor in spirit, he continues, “are rich in this ‘instinct’ of the Holy Spirit, they are rich in fraternity and desirous of social friendship, and “the possessors of goods must use them with a spirit of poverty, keeping the best part for the guest, the sick, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the excluded, who are the face, so often forgotten, of Jesus, who is the One we look for when we seek the common good. The development of a society is measured by the capacity to aid, thoughtfully, the suffering,” he adds.
Pope Francis explains that the “Good News is that, created in the image of God, the human being is called to collaborate freely with the Creator and to develop the earth sustainably and, at the same time, to mold society with the fraternal spiritual character that he himself received in the program of the Beatitudes.
“Although the globalization of indifference seems to be the prevailing voice, during all this time of the pandemic we saw how the globalization of solidarity was able to impose itself with its characteristic discretion in the different corners of our cities. Therefore, we must despoil ourselves of worldliness so that the spirit of the Beatitudes and, in our case, poverty of spirit, may acquire shape among us and between peoples,” he continues.
To overcome avarice concludes the Bishop of Rome, “we are called to engage in a global movement against indifference, which creates or re-creates social institutions inspired in the Beatitudes and stimulates us to seek the Civilization of Love. A movement that puts a limit on all those activities and institutions that by their own inclination tend only to profit, especially those that Saint John Paul II called ‘structures of sin.’”
Here is Pope Francis’ Message to the Pontifical Academy, offered by the Holy See Press Office.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters:
According to Saint Augustine, the whole perfection of our life is contained in the “Sermon on the Mount” (cf. Matthew 5f); and he demonstrates it by the fact that Jesus Christ includes in the Beatitudes the end to which they lead us, namely, the promise of happiness. What the human being most yearns for is to be happy. Hence the Lord promises happiness to those that want to live according to His style and be recognized as blessed.
All happiness is included in these blessed words of Christ. However, although all humans desire happiness, they differ in their concrete judgments about it: some want this, others that. Today we meet with a prevailing paradigm very widespread by the “unique thought” which confuses utility with happiness, to enjoy oneself and live well and it attempts to become the only valid criterion of discernment. It is a subtle form of ideological colonialism. An attempt is made to impose an ideology according to which happiness consists only in what is useful, in things and in goods, in the abundance of things, of fame and of money. Already the Psalmist lamented this distortion: “Happy the people to whom such blessings fall!” (Psalm 144:15). Advantage is taken of people’s fear, fear of not having what is necessary because they know that it is terrifying to suffer shortages in the future. Any form of scarcity causes greed. Hence the immoderate desire arises to possess riches, which is nothing other than what Saint Paul calls “avarice.” Such avarice can have such a hold on people, as well as on families and nations, especially the richest, although the most devoid are not exempt. It can also arouse in some and others suffocating materialism and a general state of conflict, which only succeeds in multiplying poverty for the majority. This situation is the cause of enormous sufferings and, at the same time, it attacks the dignity of people and of the planet — our Common Home –. All this, because of the interest to sustain the tyranny of money that only guarantees privileges to a few. We can be very attached to money, possess many things, but in the end, we won’t take them with us. I always remember what my grandmother taught me: ”the shroud doesn’t have pockets.”
Today we see that the world has never been so wealthy, yet, despite such abundance, poverty and inequality persist and, what is worse still, they are growing. In these times of opulence, in which it should be possible to put an end to poverty, the powers of the unique thought don’t say anything about the poor, the elderly, the immigrants, the unborn, the gravely sick. Invisible for the majority, they are treated as discardable. And when they are made visible, they are usually presented as an unworthy burden for the public treasury. It is a crime against humanity that, as a consequence of this prevailing avaricious and egoistic paradigm, our young people are exploited by the new growing slavery of human trafficking, especially in forced labor, prostitution, and the sale of organs.
Aware of the enormous resources of money, wealth, and technology available, our greatest need is not either to continue accumulating or greater wealth, or more technology, but to act on the ever new and revolutionary paradigm of Jesus’ Beatitudes, beginning by the first you are considering with so much attention: “Happy are the poor in spirit because the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them” (Matthew 5:3). Paradoxically, the spirit of poverty is that point of inflection that opens to us the way to happiness through a complete turnaround of the paradigm. The latter, while stripping us of the worldly spirit, leads us to use our riches and technology, goods and talents in favor of integral human development, of the common good, of social justice and the care and protection of our Common Home. The paradox of poverty of spirit, to which we are called, consists in being the key of happiness for all — individually and socially –, but not all want to hear it: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24).
Hence, poverty of spirit is, then, this surprising and unheard-of way, narrow and hard” (Matthew 7:14) but safe to attain the fulness to which as people and society we are called.
However, pay attention, Jesus doesn’t say that “material” poverty is a blessing, understood as privation of what is necessary to live worthily: food, work, housing, health, clothes, education, opportunities, etc. This poverty is caused the majority of times by injustice and avarice, and not so much by the forces of nature (global warming, disasters, pandemics, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, etc.), what’s more, perceived in the latter, frequently, is human manipulation. Poverty as a privation of what is necessary –, that is, misery — is social, as Leon Bloy and Charles Peguy saw clearly, a kind of hell because it weakens human freedom and puts those suffering it in conditions of being victims of the new slaveries (forced labor, prostitution, human trafficking, sale of organs, and others) to be able to survive. They are criminal conditions that, in strict justice, must be denounced and combatted tirelessly. All, in keeping with their own responsibility, and in particular governments, multinational and national businesses, civil society and religious communities must do so. They are the worst degradations of human dignity and, for a Christian, the open wounds of the Body of Christ who from His cross cries: I thirst. ”Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God!” as Saint Luke affirms (cf. 6:20), is a call to freedom that prioritizes the need to aid the sick and the poor with food, health, shelter, clothes, and other basic needs. What is more, Jesus proclaims that in the Last Judgment all persons, families, associations will be measured, as well as all peoples in keeping with the protocol of aid to needy brothers. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
The poor in spirit are the rich in this “instinct” of the Holy Spirit; they are rich in fraternity and desirous of social friendship. It was thus witnessed by young Francis of Assisi, son of a rich merchant, at the dawn of the industrial era, of capitalism and the bank, who abandoned riches and comforts to become poor among the poor, witnessing this Beatitude with the so-called sposalizio con Madonna povertà. Moved by the spirit of poverty he saw, in the suffering of the leper, that true wealth and joy is not in things, in having, the worldly paradigm, but in love of Christ and solidary service to others. In a fully serious and enthusiastic sense — states Chesterton — Saint Francis could say: “Blessed is he who has nothing or expects anything because he will possess everything and will enjoy everything.” Likewise, touched by the suffering of the multitude of the poor of our time, whom she regarded as her own, mercy was for Mother Teresa of Calcutta the living water and bread that gave beauty to each work of hers, and the energy that satiated and fed those that had no more than “hunger and thirst for justice.” In the same way, many men and women of lively faith — and not only that– have received graces from the poor, because in every brother and sister in difficulty we embrace the flesh of the suffering Christ.
Along with the massive increase of poverty, the other consequence of the prevailing materialist paradigm is the growing increase of the rift of inequalities, which causes social malaise and generalizes conflict, not only putting democracy in danger but also weakening the necessary social good. The tragic and systematic increase of inequalities between social groups within a country and between the populations of different countries also has a negative impact on the economic-political, cultural, and even spiritual plane. And this because of the progressive attrition of the whole of relations of fraternity, social friendship, concord, trust, reliability, and respect, which are the soul of all civil coexistence. Naturally, the avarice that moves the system has already left aside for a long time the main socio-economic and political consequence of the “spirit of poverty,” that which exacts social justice and co-responsibility in the management of goods and the fruits of the work of human beings.” “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that: ”The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not annul the original donation of the earth to the whole of humanity. The universal destiny of goods continues to be primordial, although the promotion of the common good exacts respect for private property, its right, and its exercise.” And shortly after, it adds: “The goods of production — material or immaterial — such as lands or factories, professions or arts, require the care of their possessors so that their fecundity profits the greatest number of people.” Therefore, the possessors of goods must use them with a spirit of poverty, keeping the best part for the guest, the sick, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the excluded, who are the face, so often forgotten, of Jesus, who is the One we look for when we seek the common good. The development of a society is measured by its capacity to aid, thoughtfully, the suffering.
Already in 1967, Saint Paul VI wrote in the encyclical Populorum Progressio: “It is known with what firmness the Fathers of the Church specified what the attitude should be of those that possess in regard to those that are in need: “What you give to the poor is not part of your goods — says Saint Ambrose — what you give to the poor; what you give to him belongs to him because what has been given for the use of all, you have appropriated to yourself. The earth has been given to everyone and not only for the rich.” A new important step was taken in 1987 by Saint John aul II, who introduced, for the first time, the notion of “structures of sin” to point out one of the main causes of social inequality of the capitalist system, which produces slaves.
The Good News is that created in the image of God, the human being is called to collaborate freely with the Creator and to develop sustainably the earth and, in turn, to mold the society with the fraternal spiritual character that he himself received in the program of the Beatitudes. Although the globalization of indifference seems to be the prevailing voice, during this whole time of the pandemic we saw how the globalization of solidarity was able to impose itself with its characteristic discretion in the different corners of our cities. Therefore, we must despoil ourselves of worldliness so that the spirit of the Beatitudes and, in our case, poverty of spirit, takes form among us and between peoples. However, all our discourses will be words, as the saying states, that are gone with the wind, if they are unable to be rooted and embodied in the life of young people. This exacts from us to work with emphasis and hope in educational models capable of promoting in the young generations the spirit of the Beatitudes.
I want to end with the echo that the spirit of poverty taught by Christ is echoed in Saint Paul. We cannot doubt that Paul sees as legitimate the desire for what is necessary and, consequently, to work to obtain it is a duty: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). However, at the same time, he warns his disciple Timothy about avarice as the origin of many personal and social evils. ”But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:9). “Because avarice is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10). To many, this text will seem of religious or ascetic value, but not economic. More than that, it will seem to them to be a destroyer of the economy. However, it is an eminently socio-economic and political text, as are Christ’s Beatitudes and especially that of the spirit of poverty in which it is inspired. Because Paul identifies with extreme lucidity that: “innumerable sufferings are occasioned,” because avarice did not give them the freedom and happiness they desired.
On the contrary, avarice enslaves the power to duty without mercy and without justice in the pitiless fight for the golden calf and the devil, as the modern economy demonstrates. Therefore, the wellbeing itself of every person, of the economy, of the local and global society calls for the spirit of poverty, being able to regulate the desire for profit and avarice, of letting ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, whose fruits are “love, joy, and peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”(Galatians 5:22f).
To overcome this avarice, we are called to undertake a global movement against indifference, which creates or recreates social institutions inspired in the Beatitudes and stimulates us to seek the Civilization of Love. A movement that puts limits to all those activities and institutions that by their own inclination tend only to profit, especially those that Saint John Paul II called “structures of sin,” among them the one I described as “globalization of indifference.” Let us pray to the Lord to give us a “spirit of poverty.” Let us seek it and He will help us to find it. Let us call, so the door is opened to us of the way of the Beatitudes and of genuine happiness.