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Conversion: 'Livin La Vida Rica'

By Fr C. John McLoskey III

Twelve steps to simplicity for all who would follow Jesus in the current age of materialism

In early 1999, The Pope went to Mexico to visit Our Lady of Guadalupe, but also to issue the post-synodal apostolic exhortation “The Church in America”(EIA), giving the conclusions of the Synod of the Americas held in Rome in l997. The Pope treats all of the Americas (North, South, and Central) simply as “America.” I think he wanted to visit Mexico and the U.S. on the same trip to underscore the importance of solidarity between our two countries. Intentionally or not, the trip symbolized the contrast between the richest country in the world and one of the poorest.

At a certain point in the trip, the Pope disappeared for a while. Later it was discovered that the bishops of Mexico had arranged a special meeting with about two hundred of the wealthiest and most influential people in Mexico. Such a meeting seemed surprising in a country where there is an enormous gap between rich and poor, and where there have been decades of official religious harassment and persecution on the part of an avowedly atheistic government. Though the great majority of the wives of the leaders of Mexico are pious and devout Catholics, the great majority of their husbands are long-time non-practicing Catholics at best, some of them avid Masons. But the Pope is the Holy Father of us all and he met them and gave them his message directly at the behest of his brother bishops.

The Pope had in fact already spoken to the subject. In section # 67 of EIA, the Holy Father says, “As I have already noted, love for the poor must be preferential but not exclusive. The synod fathers observed that it was in part because of an approach to the pastoral care of the poor marked by a certain exclusiveness that the pastoral care for the leading sectors of society has been neglected and many people have thus been estranged from the Church.”

Of course many of the wealthy or influential are pandered to in a sycophantic way or treated as human ATM machines for Church projects, but very few of them have been spiritually challenged to live the radical fullness of the Catholic life. This omission has contributed greatly to the ever-increasing secularization of once Christian countries such as the United States. Witness the myriad of well known and often wealthy fallen away, nominal, or dissenting Catholics in government, entertainment, media, medicine, academia, the courts, law or business. Their defection inevitably has led to secularism in society because it impacts negatively on the rest of the faithful. There are all too many bourgeois or liberal Catholics; theirs is not Christianity at all.

The Holy Father says, “The damage done by the spread of secularism in these sectors shows how urgent it is that they be evangelized with the encouragement and guidance of the church’s pastors, who are called by God to care for everyone.” St. Paul strove “to be all things to all people”, and the Church can must do the same; she can count on the help of those (fortunately still numerous) who have remained faithful to Christian values.” The Church “will with renewed fervor and updated methods announce Christ to leaders, men and women alike, insisting especially on the formation of consciences on the basis of the church’s social doctrine. This formation will act as the best antidote to the not infrequent cases of inconsistency and even corruption marking sociopolitical structures. Conversely, if this evangelization of the leadership sector is neglected, it should not come as a surprise that many who are a part of it will be guided by criteria alien to the Gospel and at times openly contrary to it.”

The Pope believes that leaders are called to shape the secular world according to God’s will. Thanks to the lay faithful, “the presence of the church in the world is realized in a special way in the variety of charisms and ministries which belong to the laity.” And here is the key point: “Secularity is the true and distinctive mark of the layperson and lay spirituality, which means the laity strive to evangelize the various sectors of family, social, professional, cultural, and political life. On a continent marked by competition and aggressiveness, unbridled consumerism and corruption, lay people are called to embody deeply evangelical values such as mercy, forgiveness, honesty, transparency of heart and patience in difficult situations. What is expected from the laity is a great creative effort in activities and works demonstrating a life in harmony with the Gospel.”

The way the powerful and influential live at home, in the workplace, and in their social life, will have a disproportionate influence, for good or ill, on hundreds of thousands and even millions of our fellow citizens, as well as on the increasingly inter-connected world. Indeed ...

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