I know, I know. He’s the leader of a global religion and an antiquarian nation-state. The Catholic Church is rife with problems, scandals, and inconsistencies. The man is, as he says, a sinner. (Maybe it’s the Mdiv/MFA in me, but when he says things like, “I am a sinner. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner,” I’m interested).
All of that said, the focus of his papacy is squarely on God’s preferential option for the poor and on works of mercy, justice, compassion, and love as being at the heart of the Gospel and, dare I say, at the heart of Jesus. He speaks of the Gospel’s beauty and fragrance with the love of a sinner radically encountered by the love and grace of God as revealed in Jesus. There is something about the prophetic nature of grace going on here. Taking nothing away from past transgressions, Francis is doing something right, and I don’t believe I’ve seen anything like it in global Christianity — Catholic, Protestant, or otherwise — ever. It’s one thing for Bono to talk like this (and I’m glad he does), but quite another for someone called the Pope.
At the same time, the United States House of Representatives yesterday completed the single greatest violence against the nation’s poor in recent memory. $40 billion cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Why? Because, Republican leaders say, it’s widely abused and wasteful. Unfortunately for them, study after non-partisan study has shown an abuse rate of 1% or less across the board, a stunning efficiency. With unemployment north of 7.5 percent, with 1 in 7 Americans living in poverty, with 1 in 6 of us not knowing where our next meal is coming from (1 in 4 children), these cuts are not merely tone deaf, vindictive, and ignorant. They are also sinful. That’s no mere political term or literary genre. That’s the cold, hard truth across religious or irreligious systems of belief. God help us.