Evangelii Gaudium is perfectly clear about this. And yet in spite of this clarity, we sometimes find our first reaction is that he’s being too easy on the prodigal son. Which makes us, I’m pretty sure, exactly like the older son. This isn’t just a nice thought for personal reflection—this is a bold assertion about the entire condition of the Church. Pope Francis seems to believe that the entire Church has been acting like the older son.
5. The Pope thinks the key to social change is grace. Now this isn’t a new idea, and it isn’t even a shocking idea. But some of us, especially those of us who love books and ideas and the use of Reason, need to be reminded about this. Take legal abortion. We’ve been fighting the monster in this country for more than four decades. We thought we could fight it by the use of sound, secular arguments—arguments we hoped would be unifying because they didn’t depend upon Church or creed. But it hasn’t worked very well.
Consider instead how John Paul II fought communism. In 1979 in Victory Square in Warsaw he cried: “I who am a Son of the land of Poland and who am also Pope John Paul II—I cry from all the depths of this Millennium, I cry on the vigil of Pentecost: Let your Spirit descend. Let your Spirit descend. And renew the face of the earth, the face of this land.” Just ten years later the Soviet regime crumbled. Yet we still cannot undo the evil of Roe vs. Wade.
Here, I think, is a way to understand what Pope Francis is up to with his pastoral agenda. He wants to sweep away bureaucratic ways of getting grace to people—as if these were methods of combat unsuited for a guerilla war—and focus instead on getting grace to people. Find the bare minimum. Feed the people. Because we can’t transform society if nobody is Christian. And we can’t get more Christians if we can’t get grace to them. It’s a strange idea, I admit—provoke a sacramental revival so as to take down the Goliath power structures of the culture of death. But then, strange as it sounds, this is exactly how it worked for the earliest Christians. And it just might work today.
Catherine Ruth Pakalukis an Assistant Professor of Economics at Ave Maria University, a Faculty Research Fellow at the Stein Center for Social Research, and a Senior Fellow in Economics at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. Her research is focused in the areas of demography, gender, family studies, and the economics of education and religion.She also works on the interpretation and history of Catholic social thought. Dr. Pakaluk earned her doctorate in economics at Harvard University (2010). She lives in Ave Maria, Florida with her husband Michael and seven children.