by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
During this past week Pope Francis officially announced his Laudato Si’ Seven Year Action Plan. For the past twelve months, the Laudato Si’ Year, 2020-2021 (following the 5th anniversary of this encyclical), we have had glimpses of the seven goals to be presented in this plan and have considered six of them in these weekly columns. We hope that each short reflection has given some idea of the ambitious scope which Pope Francis’s plan represents. [It is amazing and edifying that this 83-year-old man has the vigor and trust to present such a long-term program, one which he will doubtless never see to its conclusion.]
The seventh goal of Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ Seven Year Action Plan is “Community Engagement and Participatory Action”. This self-explanatory challenge is totally in line with the Pope’s traditional thought processes. It is the third step in how the pope unfailingly proceeds: First – See; Second – Judge; and Third – Act. There are other ways as well to describe this process. For example, the “circle of praxis: experience, social analysis of the experience, relation of God’s Word with the analysis and a decision to take appropriate action”; or “a time to see, a time to choose, a time to act” (the process followed by Francis in his wonderful little book Let Us Dream).
In every one of these almost identical ways of addressing issues, the outcome must be an action. Without doing something about the issue reflected on, the whole enterprise is sterile, merely academic gymnastics. The New Testament Letter of St. James puts it in a slightly different but no less urgent way: “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
This seventh goal is especially relevant and necessary for rank-and-file U.S. Catholics. By and large the spirituality they/we have slipped into for the last several decades has been domesticating, of a vanilla color, passive. Despite our Church’s vigorous Catholic Social Teaching we have mostly heard here a spirituality based on what has to be called the “prosperity Gospel”. It defines the practice of our faith as a sort of magic wand that is waved over our lives to secure our heart’s greatest desires in life: health, wealth, victory, feel-goodism.
Pope Francis’s mindset is totally opposed to this perversion of Jesus’s message and actions. At a very dramatic moment in his life, he said, “No one has greater love that this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, spoken by the way at the Last Supper just before Jesus was arrested, given the death penalty, tortured and executed!) The spirituality proposed by Pope Francis is entirely opposed to such a bogus spirituality. His is an outwardly way of living in Christ who himself was deeply engaged in the world around him and stood against the structures which oppressed the people of his time and place. As Francis would say, without this kind of engagement, the Church is not the Church.
In a real way the fulfillment (or not) of this seventh goal will be a final judgement on the success or failure of the other six. They all call for “engagement and participatory action”. That will mean turning U.S. Christianity away from an individualistic, self-absorbed, academic relationship with Christ; from disengaged complicity in the desperate cries of impoverished sisters and brothers and the serious illness of our Mother Earth.
What then to do? In the Pope’s reflection Let Us Dream he lays out a kind of blueprint for “engagement and participatory action”: “Decenter and Transcend”. Decenter from yourself “and move out beyond” – transcend your own enclosed world. “Let yourself be pulled along, shaken up, challenged … And then act: call up, go visit, offer your service. Even say you don’t have a clue about what they do, but maybe you can help. Say you’ll like to be part of a different world and you thought this might be a good place to start.”
“We have to see clearly, choose well and act right.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.