Pope Francis has made interesting comments on poverty, some of which have been misconstrued by the media and in the Church itself. Samuel Gregg, Director of Research for the Acton Institute, discusses both the meaning of poverty within Church teaching and what Pope Francis is truly referring to when he addresses poverty in our world today. In Crisis Magazine, Gregg points out that Christians are never to be forgetful of economic disparities, but that “poverty” has a richer and far more important meaning that just the economic one.
[I]n understanding Francis’s words about poverty, we should remember the pope is an orthodox Catholic. He’s not a philosophical or practical materialist. Hence Francis’s conception of poverty and the poor goes far beyond conventional secular understandings of these subjects.
In a revealing question-and-answer session held on Pentecost eve with members of the new movements that have brought such life to the Church since Vatican II, the pope said this about Christianity and poverty.
For us Christians, poverty is not a sociological, philosophical or cultural category. No, it is a theological category. I would say, perhaps the first category, because God, the Son of God, abased Himself, made Himself poor to walk with us on the road. And this is our poverty: the poverty of the flesh of Christ, the poverty that the Son of God brought us with His Incarnation. A poor Church for the poor begins by going to the flesh of Christ. If we go to the flesh of Christ, we begin to understand something, to understand what this poverty is, the poverty of the Lord.
In a word, it’s about humility. As another old-school Jesuit Philip Caraman once wrote, humility is the ‘virtue by which we take true measure of ourselves before God, bearing in mind all that God has given us and done for us and expects from us.’
Gregg goes on to say that Pope Francis is not asking the Church to become a political movement or a social service agency, serving the financially disadvantaged.
Francis wants Catholics to bring a distinctly Christian dimension to poverty issues. In his Pentecost Vigil remarks, he stressed that our primary concern cannot be effectiveness and efficiency. ‘It is one thing to preach Jesus,’ Francis told his listeners, ‘and another to be efficient.’
Obviously Christians are not excused from thinking (rather than simply emoting) about and debating the “hows” of poverty-alleviation and working to reduce it. There are requirements of justice. Francis’s point, however, is that if we only consider what he calls ‘worldly effectiveness, we risk forgetting Christian love.