the Gospel, class, and politics

I found this passage very interesting in light of our current “cold-turkey” fast from politics and elections.  It is a passage from a book by Carlo Carretto’s, I, Francis. It is a description of the life of St. Francis of Assisi told from the perspective of Francis living in modern times.  I haven’t read the book (but think I would like to).  I found this passage in A Guide to Prayer by Job and Shawchuck (The Upper Room).  Let me know what you think.   I believe its time Christians begin to seriously rethink our perceptions of what “Gospel” might be…the Gospel is so much more than an individual soul elixir/ticket to heaven when we die.  It deals with “change of hearts” which in turn shows up in our relationship to politics, culture, classes, poverty, wealth, etc.  I’d be interested in your thoughts.

When I, Francis, heard the call of the Gospel, I did not set about organizing a politcal pressure-group in Assisi.  What I did, I remember very well, I did for love, without expecting anything in return;  I did it for the  Gospel, without placing myself at odds with the rich, without squabbling with those who preferred to remain rich.  And I certainly did it without any class hatred.

I did not challenge the poor people who came with me to fight for their rights, or win salary increases.  I only told them that we would  be blessed–if also battered, persecuted, or killed.  The Gospel taught me to place the emphasis on the mystery of the human being more than on the duty of the human being.

I did not understand duty very well.  But how well I understood–precisely because I had come from a life of pleasure–that when a poor person, a suffering person, a sick person, could smile, that was the perfect sign that God existed, and that he was helping the poor person in his or her difficulties.

The social struggle in my day was very lively and intense, almost, I should say, as much so as in your own times.  Everywhere there arose groups of men and women professing poverty and preaching poverty in the Church and the renewal of society.  But nothing changed, because these people did not change hearts…

No, brothers and sisters, it is not enough to change laws.  You have to change hearts.  Otherwise, when you have completed the journey of your social labors you shall find yourselves right back at the beginning–only this time it is you who will be the arrogant, the rich, and the exploiters of the poor.

This is why I took the Gospel path. For me the Gospel was the sign of liberation, yes, but of true liberation, the liberation of hearts.  This was the thrust that lifted me out of the middle-class spirit, which is present to every age, and is known as selfishness, arrogance, pride, sensuality, idolatry, and slavery.

I know something about all that.

I knew what it meant to be rich, I knew the danger flowing from a life of easy pleasure, and when I heard the text in Luke, “Alas for you, who are rich” my flesh crept.  I understood.  I had run a mortal risk, by according a value to the idols that filled my house, for they would have cast me in irons had I not fled.

It is not that I did not understand the importance of the various tasks that keep a city running.  I understood, but I sought to go beyond.

You can reproach me, go ahead.  But I saw, in the Gospel, a road beyond, a path that beyond, a path that transcended all cultures, all human constructs, all civilization and conventions.

I felt the Gospel to be eternal; I felt politics and culture, including Christian culture, to be in time.

I was made always to go beyond time.

from I, Francis by Carlo Carretto

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One thought on “the Gospel, class, and politics

  1. That’s a great quote. It is so rich it makes it hard to comment on the whole thing.

    “No, brothers and sisters, it is not enough to change laws. You have to change hearts. Otherwise, when you have completed the journey of your social labors you shall find yourselves right back at the beginning–only this time it is you who will be the arrogant, the rich, and the exploiters of the poor.” I think the following story illustrates this point (from The Fidelity of Betrayal by Peter Rollins):

    A Roman soldier had the legal right to demand that a citizen carried his pack for one mile as a service to the Empire. One day a small group of disciples who had embraced the way of Jesus early in his ministry heard him preaching by the side of the dusty road. They did not live with Jesus or the twelve, so they were excited to hear more of his teaching. As they listened, Jesus spoke: “The law says that you must carry a pack for one mile,” he said to those gathered: “I say freely carry it for two.”
    The disciples were deeply impressed by these words, as it allowed for an opportunity to show the soldiers a hint of the kingdom values and presented them with an opportunity to suffer in some small way for their faith.
    As the practice of carrying a pack was common at the time, this small band of believers soon developed a reputation for their actions. Roman soldiers would often hope that the citizens they asked to carry their load packs would be from among these disciples, and often a small bond of friendship would be sparked off between the soldiers and these followers of the Way.
    After a year had passed, this custom had become so established in the life and works of this small group that it became a defining characteristic of shared life. The leaders would frequently refer to the teachings of Jesus and emphasized the need to carry a Roman soldier’s pack for two miles as a sign of one’s faith and commitment.
    It so happened that Jesus heard about this community and, on his way to Jerusalem, stopped at their small meeting place. The leaders eagerly gathered together all the members of the group to hear what Jesus would wish to say to them. Once everyone had gathered, Jesus spoke: “Dear brothers and sisters, you are faithful and honest, but I have come to you with a second message, for you failed to understand the first one I offered. Your law says that you must carry a pack for two miles. I say carry it freely for three.”

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