My personal New Year’s Resolutions for 2016 come straight from the top: Pope Francis wants me to be irksome and make a ruckus.
On Christmas Eve, inspired by Pope Francis, I published this reflection on our efforts to raise the visibility of documented cases of modern-day slavery in the coffeelands. Efforts that were called “naive” by industry colleagues concerned about the fallout. In my post, I shared Pope Francis’ perspective on naïveté regarding economic issues: that it is naive to trust the market to take care of poor and vulnerable people, not to speak out on their behalf when it doesn’t. The source of the insight was a document called Gaudium Evangelii, an Apostolic Exhortation written by Pope Francis as guidance to Catholics about how we can apply our faith in our daily lives.
It was not the only time in the document he weighed in on what a faithful reaction to economic injustice–to the kinds of labor abuse we documented—looks like. He went on to write:
“The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies. At times, however, they seem to be a mere addendum imported from without in order to fill out a political discourse lacking in perspectives or plans for true and integral development. How many words prove irksome to this system! It is irksome when the question of ethics is raised, when global solidarity is invoked, when the distribution of goods is mentioned, when reference in made to protecting labour and defending the dignity of the powerless, when allusion is made to a God who demands a commitment to justice. At other times these issues are exploited by a rhetoric which cheapens them. Casual indifference in the face of such questions empties our lives and our words of all meaning. Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.”
I resisted the suggestion that our decision to start a conversation about modern slavery in coffee was naive, but I will readily accept that it was irksome.
In Gaudium Evangelii, Pope Francis also reveals his vision of what role the Church should play in the world:
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
It was hardly the first time he called Catholics to activism. In the summer of 2013, during World Youth Day observations in Rio, Pope Francis met with a group of young Argentines and delivered a blistering message in his native Spanish. Over and over he told them “Quiero lio. Quiero lio. Quiero lio.” I want “lio.”
There is a lot of meaning packed into that little word, lio. Google offers 23 different translations, at least one of which is not repeatable here, and most of which imply conflict or struggle: mess, hassle, tangle, scrape, rumpus, mix-up, snarl-up. None of them was “noise,” the polite translation preferred by the Vatican. My own understanding of the term in its original Spanish, especially in the context of the missionary theology of Pope Francis, suggests that “ruckus” is perhaps the appropriate choice.
“Let me tell you what I hope will be the outcome of World Youth Day: I hope there will be a ruckus. Here there will be a ruckus, I’m quite sure. Here in Rio there will be a ruckus, no doubt about that. But I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the ruckus to go out, I want the Church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves. The parishes, the schools, the institutions are made for going out … if they don’t, they become an NGO, and the Church cannot be an NGO. May the bishops and priests forgive me if some of you create a ruckus for them afterwards. That’s my advice. Thanks for whatever you can do.”
Making Trouble with a Purpose
Pope Francis is not a hooligan, of course. He is not provoking trouble for its own sake. And he explicitly disavows “unruly activism.” The nettlesome language and street fighting he is advocating for are driven by a profound theological vision and an abiding commitment to serve people who are poor and marginalized; being irksome and making a ruckus are not appropriate when disembodied from that vision, and only appropriate when they have real potential serve the cause of justice.
For 2016, I resolve to keep Pope Francis’ “commandment” to, “Say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.”
Even Especially if that involves being irksome and making a ruckus.