Pope Francis has become one of the most talked about popes since Pope St. John Paul II. He’s also one of the most controversial popes of our era, but only because he speaks to a world that is focused on the political agenda – where everything breaks down into a political haze of Liberal vs. Conservative; Democrat vs. Republican; Left vs. Right. The Left touts him as their new mouthpiece for bringing a moral cause to their agenda. The Right accuses him of being a Marxist. He’s affectionately called the “Pope of the Left.” It’s a strange world we now live in where the leader of the Catholic Church – which is the most hated institution of the Left – has now become their hero. But Pope Francis is perhaps the world’s leading genius when it comes to evangelization and conversion.
I must admit, I identify primarily as Conservative. I’ve voted Republican in every election. I’ve championed their cause, stood up for their ideals, and argued for Conservatism my whole life. I’ve lived most of my life believing that Conservatism is the political ideal that most closely aligns with Catholicism, and therefore Truth. I’ve gone through life arrogantly thinking that I was approaching Truth with reason and logic. Whenever I would argue my case, what I believed to be logical arguments, only landed on deaf ears and turned people away. I grew frustrated with those around me who didn’t hold the same beliefs. I never treated them unjustly, but I definitely didn’t treat them with charity either, beginning to think that people were just too emotional to understand the Truth.
Boy, how arrogant does that sound?
I never once stopped to think that perhaps it wasn’t my defense of the Truth, but rather my way of defending that was the problem.
It wasn’t until I started listening to Pope Francis that I began to see that what I was doing was trying to win people’s minds instead of winning their hearts as Christ had done. As Christians, we are called to bear witness to Christ, which we so often forget. After listening to and watching Pope Francis, I began to see that I wasn’t bearing witness to Christ at all. Pope Francis challenged my way of thinking about my Faith and how I was practicing it. I realized I was missing the most important virtue to practice, a virtue that Pope Francis extols the most – charity.
Most people think of charity and their first reaction is always that charity means sacrifice or the giving of some material item, but that is only one aspect of charity. As defined by the Catechism,
Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. Jesus makes charity the new commandment…When Jesus says: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.” And again: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:9, 12). §1822-1823
In a nutshell, charity is the practice of love – willing the good of another – and the results are joy, peace, and mercy. It is mercy that Pope Francis is focusing on when dealing with opponents of Catholicism and Truth. Mercy and charity are two often misunderstood concepts. It’s used as a cop-out in today’s society, or a get-out-of-jail-free card. In reality, these two words have been hijacked by relativists and modernists who would like us to believe that these words mean the acceptance of people’s sinful lifestyle. To them, Pope Francis is the ultimate hero, turning what they believe is a judgmental, totalitarian, and closed-door institution into an anything-goes, open-door institution. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Pope Francis isn’t changing Catholic doctrine. He isn’t making room for the acceptance of people’s sinful lifestyles. He is defending Catholicism with Scriptural charity and mercy. He is evangelizing by reaching out to the misguided, meeting them on their level, and lifting them up.
Being the greatest of all virtues, charity is the form and practice of the virtues, binding everything together in perfect harmony, upholding and purifying our human ability to love and raising it to perfection (Catechism, 1827). Charity, and mercy by extension, is the acceptance of the sinner with due justice. It’s administering justice by leading the misguided to truth. Charity is benevolence and fosters reciprocity, remaining disinterested and generous (Catechism, 1829) Pope Francis is giving fraternal correction to the misguided constantly. To those who have misguided causes but good intentions, he is using beneficence and fraternal correction to lead them to Truth. For example, with Laudate Si he gives due justice to the environmentalist cause, which oftentimes has the vice of making the environment a god. However, instead of focusing on the vice and pointing out what’s wrong with environmentalism, Pope Francis acknowledges the importance of being good stewards of the earth and not squandering the gift God has given us. Yet, he doesn’t stop at the environment. He brings the cause further, aligning it closer to Catholic doctrine and emphasizing the importance of all God’s creation, including the life of the unborn. He includes the necessity to cherish and protect nature as is without changing it to fit our desires, and this includes the nature of society and family. This call to respecting nature and all God’s creation is causing people to question how one can respect the environment and yet go against nature with redefining family and also destroying the most vulnerable among us.
Similar to the environmentalist cause, Pope Francis is reaching out and engaging anti-capitalists. He acknowledges the danger of what he calls “unfettered capitalism.” He doesn’t discourage wealth, but instead warns against the tyranny of materialism and excess. He warns against capitalism devoid of God, where people are slaves to money and where profit is the ultimate goal. He makes us question what is more important, our wealth or our neighbor. He doesn’t attack wealth or personal success, but he does caution against making wealth and profits the ultimate goal, making money and progress into gods. He is reminding us that we belong to a community and we have a duty as members of society to help our neighbor and to not put material items and profit-making before our neighbor’s well-being even if that means sacrificing profits to do so. Pope Francis is reminding us to make ourselves the neighbor of those on the outskirts of society, loving them, our enemies, and the poor as Christ himself (Catechism, 1825).
Never once has Pope Francis strayed from Catholic doctrine. He has merely chosen a different approach to winning the hearts of millions across the world and thereby gaining converts. Pope Francis’ approach is through bearing witness to the virtue of charity. He is calling us to convert not by argument, debate, and preaching the Church – methods of which are not wrong, but sometimes not as effective. He is instead asking us to convert by bearing witness to Christ through the practice of charity and mercy. He is asking us to lead the world to the Church through Christ, not the other way around. He is showing us the power of charity, asking us to begin with the most important virtue in communicating with opponents and those of differing views, even within the Church. This is evangelization – to lead with uncompromising and non-judgmental charity so as to win people’s hearts and their minds.