The day Pope Francis was elected, I went directly to the bar. It was about noon when I first got word that white smoke had been spotted outside of the Sistine Chapel. Soon after, my phone began to flood with texts declaring “Habemus Papam!” I called up a few of my Catholic friends and we decided that the best place to watch the announcement at St. Peter’s was none other than our favorite college pub.
The bar was empty so we asked the bartender to change the TV channel and ordered our first round. Our celebration had begun.
I remember the intensity in the room leading up to the reveal of our new Holy Father. When the announcement finally came, it was followed by a dramatic “Who?” None of us had heard of this beloved Cardinal from Argentina nor considered him in our discussions about possible Papal contenders.
The news began to paint a picture of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as a pontiff who acts Christ-like and lives simply. The image of our new Pope seemed perfect until reporters began to declare that our Holy See might have ties to liberation theology and progressivism. As I read a little bit more on the subject I was disheartened to find that Pope Francis may not be capitalism’s biggest fan after all (even though he was no liberation theologian). In my conceited fantasy, the perfect successor to St. Peter’s chair was one that embraced the truths of economic rationalism and the free market.
Since his election as the Holy See, Francis has shown that he is not a liberation theologian, but a man committed to the Catholic tradition. In regards to economic matters, Samuel Gregg puts it best in an article on Pope Francis for the Catholic World Report:
Pope Francis is not a socialist, capitalist, leftist, libertarian, Keynesian, Hayekian, supply-sider, demand-sider, deficit hawk, or monetary dove. He’s a Catholic, and like any other Catholic, he will look to the Scriptures, Church Tradition, the writings of the Church Fathers, the teachings of popes and councils, as well as the natural law for guidance on how to address economic questions and challenges.
In the same article, Gregg later says:
…not to expect Francis to provide the Catholic faithful with a detailed five-year plan for economic reform, or a ten-point schema for economic liberalization… It is not so, because [he believes] those things are primarily the responsibility of the laity.
If political change is a responsibility of the lay people of the Church, what might the Pope propose? Samuel Gregg again provides some insight:
In Gregg’s opinion all of this suggests that Francis will focus “on the need for inner moral reform, for interior conversion, [and] for making Christ’s light part and parcel of all that we do in economic life.”
An inner moral reform is exactly what Pope Francis, and might I add Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus, have suggested in the Holy Father’s first encyclical letter. Lumen Fidei translated into English means the “Light of the Faith”. The encyclical explores the theological virtue of Faith and how it can be used as a guiding light for society.
So how is faith able to save us? Lumen Fidei gives us the answer.
Faith transforms lives
4. Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time.
19. On the basis of this sharing in Jesus’ way of seeing things, Saint Paul has left us a description of the life of faith. In accepting the gift of faith, believers become a new creation; they receive a new being; as God’s children, they are now “sons in the Son”.
26. Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love.
Faith sets forth a journey in the form of a personal call. It saves others from an empty and futile life that one has without it and gives them hope. Through faith, actions are given meaning and purpose.
Faith enables moral truth
3. Yet in the absence of light everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere.
25. Surely this kind of truth — we hear it said — is what was claimed by the great totalitarian movements of the last century, a truth that imposed its own world view in order to crush the actual lives of individuals. In the end, what we are left with is relativism, in which the question of universal truth — and ultimately this means the question of God — is no longer relevant.
54. Thanks to faith we have come to understand the unique dignity of each person, something which was not clearly seen in antiquity.
Faith is a needed to determine what is truly good (objective truth). It allows human beings to be seen as individuals made in God’s image and likeness; as beings of worth. Faith thus provides a moral code by protecting the rights of others. It cuts through the collective ideology and false beliefs of ‘good’; such as – the greatest good for the greatest number. Without the virtue of faith, we are left with relativism and existentialism. The world becomes a place where morality is defined based on an individual’s subjective belief.
Faith is a light for society
51. Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good. Its light does not simply brighten the Interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope
55. Faith also helps us to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted; it teaches us to create just forms of government, in the realization that authority comes from God and is meant for the service of the common good.
Faith provides a framework to protect the common good. History has shown that when individual rights are upheld by the state, societies can flourish. Faith is behind the philosophical concepts of Natural Law and Inalienable Rights that the US founding fathers referenced in The United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Because Christianity is a religion of individual salvation, faith fundamentally embraces personal responsibility and human dignity; values needed to uphold a free and virtuous society.
A renewal of faith can save us in an economic and morally bankrupt age because it is a necessary precursor for a Culture of Life. Faith has the ability to reform individual lives, establish traditional morality, and put forth a societal plan for the good of everyone. It is this virtue that has the potential to bring about change that transforms all aspects of society.
In his 2013 book, Becoming Europe, Dr. Samuel Gregg quotes 1993 Nobel Laureate Douglass North:
Both institutions and belief systems must change for successful reform since it is the mental models of the actors that will shape choices… Informal constraints (norms, conventions and codes of conduct) favorable to growth can sometimes produce economic growth even with unstable or adverse political rules.
If we want to build a free and virtuous society, one that is able to last and prosper, we need to cultivate a culture of faith. If we look though history we will find that culture is what drives societal reform, not politics. A renewal within the hearts and minds of individuals can bring about the economic change and prosperity that many of us desire in a roundabout way.