There he goes again.
Pope Francis continues to speak out for the poor — to the exclusion of the “struggling middle class” — much to the exasperation of some people.
The writer of a recent letter to the editor of a California diocesan newspaper does not like to “read continuous scolds from Rome about the need to help the ‘poor.'”
“I for one am weary of the adulation of our current pope for his drumbeat about preferences for the poor as if no previous pope had emphasized the theme,” she wrote.
Good. That means it’s working. Most advertising experts tell their clients it is not until they are tired of hearing their own commercial that it is finally registering with the public.
“What I am not hearing from Rome is a single sentence, never mind a document, saluting the struggling middle class,” the letter writer said.
She should expect a long wait ahead.
The middle class do not lack for spokespersons. They have the AARP, various chambers of commerce, legislators and public officials who will take their phone calls. Yes, Pope Francis speaks and writes continuously about Christian responsibility for those in poverty. It is not new, but he says it in direct and contemporary language that is finding great appeal.
Being poor isn’t just about having few material possessions. “It suggests lowliness, a sense of one’s limitations and existential poverty,” the pope told group of young people earlier this year. “The anawim (God’s poor) trust in the Lord and they know they can count on him.”
The letter writer is not alone in her misconception of the poor.
Poverty is more than lacking money — it is lacking power. The pope spoke of “an economy of exclusion” where “the powerful feed upon the powerless.”
“As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape,” he said in the apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
The letter writer seems to be a good person. “Since I was a child, decades ago, I have been solicited to help the less fortunate, and I have regularly contributed through the years to those who, because of personal misfortune or living under corrupt leaders, find themselves destitute and who knock on the door of the Catholic Church.”
Yet that is not enough, as the world is learning from Pope Francis.
Francis, who was known as the “slum bishop” in Argentina because of his work among the poor, said reaching out to those on the margins of society was “the most concrete way of imitating Jesus.”
“The word ‘solidarity’ is a little worn and at times poorly understood, but it refers to something more than a few sporadic acts of generosity. It presumes the creation of a new mindset that thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few,” he wrote in his exhortation.
This creating a community-minded mindset is a radical rebranding of Christianity. If followed, it could change the world.
There will be plenty of time to address the middle class once that is accomplished.
Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.