Thursday, May 8, 2014

Oil & Water: Catholic Mixed Marriages

I've been hearing a lot lately about mixed marriages--from friends, from Catholic bloggers, etc etc.  I've toyed with the idea of writing a little about them before but always hesitated because I didn't want to write something like a diatribe, or something painfully tangential.  And I will say at the beginning of this post that
  • This is my application of what the Church has given us on this topic, and probably not an all-encompassingly correct one--I just want to present some food for thought;
  • My personal experience with non-Catholic relationships was dating and discerning potential marriage with a Protestant-in-name-only for 2 or so years; when contrasted with my current relationship with a strong Catholic, there is frankly no comparison in terms of unity, fulfillment, and peace of heart;
  • I do know a few successful mixed marriages (most notably my future mother-in-law), although most of them are successful because the non-Catholic has converted since the marriage began.
I'll also state what I hope is the takeaway right here, up front: For a Catholic to enter into a mixed marriage is to put themselves into the almost-impossible position of balancing their Faith and their marriage, with their eternal salvation as the possible casualty.

Yesterday the Facebook page for Ignitum Today, where I also blog, directed me to this article, about dating and potentially marrying non-Catholics.  This section stood out:
"In my experience, interfaith marriages only work if one or both of the persons involved have no serious commitment to their religion prior to marriage.  If one or both get serious about religion after the marriage, that has its own set of risks and problems.  So best to know where you both stand prior to marriage.

Marriage is successful primarily if your love is built on close friendship, mutual respect, mutual sacrifice, and compromise rather than religious affiliation.  But when it comes to religion, the non-Catholic party has more to compromise and concede to.  I know that’s a lousy deal, but that’s the way it is.  Much is demanded of Catholics, and the Catholic Church does not allow its members to decide what and what not to believe." (emphasis mine)
 This got me thinking about my own attitudes towards my Faith when I was dating a Protestant, and the attitudes of Catholic people I've known over the years in mixed relationships/marriages.  Although the Church and moral law clearly require that if there are any real compromises of religion, they come on the part of the non-Catholic (Casti Connubi, Matrimonia Mixta, and the Catechism, among others, back this up--more on that later), it is sadly and often the Catholics who end up watering down their Faith or losing it altogether. But what I was thinking about, and what I'd like to write about here, is why. Why is a mixed marriage so dangerous?

Unity Recap #1: The Church & the Catholic Faithful
Casti Connubii (1930), section 82: "They, therefore, who rashly and heedlessly contract mixed marriages, from which the maternal love and providence of the Church dissuades her children for very sound reasons, fail conspicuously in this respect, sometimes with danger to their eternal salvation...If the Church occasionally on account of circumstances does not refuse to grant a dispensation from these strict laws (provided that the divine law remains intact and the dangers above mentioned are provided against by suitable safeguards), it is unlikely that the Catholic party will not suffer some detriment from such a marriage."
Matrimonia Mixta (1970): Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the difficulties inherent even in mixed marriage between baptized persons. There is often a difference of opinion on the sacramental nature of matrimony, on the special significance of marriage celebrated within the Church, on the interpretation of certain moral principles pertaining to marriage and the family, on the extent to which obedience is due the Catholic Church, and on the competence that belongs to ecclesiastical authority. From this it is clear that difficult questions of this kind can only be resolved when Christian unity is restored.

The faithful must therefore be taught that, although the Church somewhat relaxes ecclesiastical discipline in particular cases, she can never remove the obligation of the Catholic party, which, by divine law, namely by the plan of salvation instituted through Christ, is imposed according to the various situations.

The faithful should therefore be reminded that the Catholic party in a marriage has the duty of preserving his or her own faith. Nor is it ever permitted to expose oneself to a proximate danger of losing it.
The Catechism (1985), section 1634: "Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ. But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own home...The temptation to religious indifference can then arise."
 Thus, whether before or after the Second Vatican Council, with the slight relaxation of the Church's complete forbidding of mixed marriages, the Church has been clear in issuing a grave warning against the marriages of Catholics and non-Catholics--even baptized non-Catholics.

As Casti Connubii makes apparent, this is not out of a harsh desire to limit or hurt the matrimonial chances or happiness of the Faithful, but rather, out of a deep respect for the sacrament of matrimony as the vessel for the physical transmittal of the Catholic Faith through the generations, and out of love and care for the salvation of the individual Catholic.

The attitude of the Church on this subject has not really changed, and I think a misunderstanding of this on the part of Catholic educators, marriage preparers, and individuals, is the first part of the issue common today in which the Catholic remits part or all of their Faith.  There is a perception that, after the 1970's, the Church suddenly decided to take the stigma away from mixed marriages.  Sure, you can't have a Nuptial Mass, and you have to jump through some administrative hoops to receive your dispensation, but those things are formalities that show respect for the tradition of the Catholic Faith, with no real modern application.

This is a strange and disproportionate understanding of the shift that occurred after Vatican II.  The Church did not make mixed marriage 'ok', it simply underscored the fact that dispensations existed, and that, in the interest of pastoral sensitivity to the needs of the flock, it would be less grudgingly granted than earlier times.  'Less grudgingly' does not mean 'without misgivings' or 'with enthusiasm', but that is how this movement has been interpreted almost universally.  'The Church used to forbid mixed marriages but now it's ok'.

But the Catechism and Matrimonia Mixta are far from enthusiastic about the marriage of a Catholic and a non-Catholic, and both reemphasize their warnings that Catholics avoid such unions.  This is not, in my opinion, something to take lightly, because the Church doesn't generally issue moral warnings 'lightly' or for fun.

Unity Recap #2: The Catholic Faithful and the non-Catholic Spouse

So, if the Church is willing to grant dispensations for mixed marriages now more than in past years, why the continued warning? Why the attempt, in official Church documents on the topic, to preserve the stigma?  In short--why is it such a big deal? What is it about a mixed marriage that is intrinsically incompatible with the Catholic understanding of matrimony?

Having dated a non-Catholic very seriously, and now, engaged to a strong Catholic and going through the marriage preparation process with him, I have begun to understand at least one possible answer to these questions.  The summarized version is: the Catholic sacrament of Matrimony is intended to be as a complete a unitive sublimation of self as the union and sublimation of the Church with Christ.  You can't have that between a Catholic and a non-Catholic, even if he or she is 'Christian'.

The most common response I hear to my misgivings about mixed marriage is "He/she is going to support me in raising the kids Catholic; he/she totally respects my Faith and understands I am not going to change it, and is completely ok with that, so it's all going to be fine."

Even if those things are 100% true (and if they are, your Protestant betrothed is probably more of a saint than you are), you are still kidding yourself if you think this is going to be 'fine'.  Entering into a mixed marriage with your eyes truly open should excite caution, steeling of the will for a kind of emotional battle, and a hunger for the strength that comes through prayer and resignation to God's will--not complacency or nonchalance.  Saying "I know this will be tough sometimes" is not good enough. 

Think about the unity of spirit that spouses are meant to have.  As Casti Connubii says, "By matrimony, therefore, the souls of the contracting parties are joined and knit together more directly and more intimately than are their bodies, and that not by any passing affection of sense of spirit, but by a deliberate and firm act of the will; and from this union of souls by God's decree, a sacred and inviolable bond arises" (section 7).  Your souls are knit together in the bond of marriage!  This is why the Biblical description says "And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh." (Mark 10:8)

The Scriptural passage is key because it helps us understand the Church, and vice versa.  'Knit together' highlights the individualism of the two who are married together.  They are two separate people, with two separate souls.  But the bond 'more intimate' than the union of their bodies makes them "not two, but one".  Thus, the spouses are called to a a total sublimation of self in marriage.  This does not mean that they lose their personalities, or their individual soul, but that they should strive to unite their souls and hearts so completely that they move as one flesh towards salvation, where God and God alone will dissolve the bond.  

But how can you achieve that kind of unity with someone who is not Catholic? To be sure, there is much merit in Christian unity--just read the words of Pope Francis or John Paul II.  That unity, however, is by nature limited, until the two become one in Faith.  A Catholic life--the kind we are supposed to strive for, the kind the saints have--gives you a Christo-centric perspective that places everything else in submission to Him and to His service and glory.  Since the Church transmits to us Christ's instructions for how to live this kind of life, both in its generals and its particulars, only the Catholic Faith can properly focus your gaze.  A Christian--no matter how devout--will always diverge from a devout Catholic (though not always in terms of personal sanctity).  There are certainly Protestants who live a better example of Christianity than do some Catholics.  Yet no matter how well or poorly a Catholic executes his Christian life, the template which he is following is always more complete and correctly focused than his Christian brethren.  

Thus, trying to have a marriage with a non-Catholic, and trying to get that unity of vision and Faith that the Bible and the Church described above, is almost impossible.  Like oil and water, the two individuals can never really sublimate; there will always be a membranous barrier that keeps them separate, at best floating within one another discretely, like a bubble.  The logical extension of this thought is that a 'mixed marriage' can only surmount that barrier of Faith and become truly unified through the conversion of the non-Catholic party.  This certainly happens. But it can only happen when the Catholic in the marriage has the right attitude and understanding of what a mixed union is, and lives a heroic example of their Faith.

So what is the right attitude?

First and most important, the Catholic in a mixed marriage must understand that they are obliged to be the spiritual leader in the relationship.  This is tricky if the wife is Catholic, because she feels the pull of traditional gender roles urging her to defer to her husband as the leader and head of the household.  But regardless of which spouse is the Catholic, they must shoulder the responsibility of spiritual leadership. This is not because the  Catholic is holier or smarter, but because respect and love for Christ and His Church require it.  If a Catholic would not be ashamed by their Faith in a public sphere, nor compromise or pretend about how Catholicism fits into 'the world', so much more so should they refrain from hiding, subjugating, or politely restraining their Faith in order to defer to the leadership of a Protestant in marriage.

Which leads to the second facet of a Catholic attitude within a mixed marriage.  How seriously do you want to keep and cultivate your Faith?  For a Catholic married to an agnostic or a weak Christian, like the ex-boyfriend I dated, it is easy to express a desire to staunchly keep your Faith, but hard in practice to care on a daily basis.  Obviously, if you avail yourself of the sacraments, frequent Mass, etc, God will sustain you, but it is difficult to be the only Catholic in as intimate a relationship as a marriage, receiving no encouragement or true support from your spouse.  Can you imagine being a mother or a dad, passionately serious about raising your children well, and knowing that your spouse was totally indifferent to your parenthood, unsupportive at best and deliberately sabotaging you at worst?

Even harder, if you are marrying a devout Protestant, you are faced with two alternatives:

1. You deliberately and prayerfully choose to embrace the kind of marriage in which you know you will not have as complete or fulfilling a unity, and instead choose unity with Christ at the expense of the ideal Catholic marriage.  This sounds harsh, but if you are Catholic and your spouse is not, you can either choose your spouse or choose your Faith.  The two are certainly not totally mutually exclusive, but there will and must be a hierarchy, and a more pronounced one than the normal 'God--family--country' ladder that Catholics understand anyway.  This is a difficult choice to make, to understand that you will be a little lonely, a little less fulfilled on a marital level.  It may be relatively peaceful, and you may not notice it often, but be assured there will be times when it will feel unbearable. This is the "tragedy of Christian disunity" that the Catechism mentions. Catholics and Protestants, while linked, are not equal.

Sadly, the kind of resolve necessary to very precisely choose salvation over spouse is nearly unnatural and therefore, at least nowadays I think, rare.  As human beings, our inclination is towards marital unity with our spouse, and sacrificial love for them.  While the first alternative definitely does not and should not preclude self-sacrifice and care for your spouse, it is the less comfortable of the two choices.

2. The second choice is to try to fool yourself into thinking you have equitably balanced God and non-Catholic spouse.  You tell yourself you are respectful when you go to your spouse's non-Catholic services, even taking your children.  You tell yourself you are being self-sacrificing when you don't speak out for your Faith, or when you submit to the non-Catholic spouse as spiritual leader of the family.  You tell yourself you are fulfilling your duty to God and husband or wife by making your Faith utterly internal and personal.  In other words, you are watering down your Faith and lying to yourself.

Again--sounds harsh? It is. But it is also true.  While there is no need to aggressively shove your Catholic Faith down your spouse's throat, compromising on 'the little things' that 'don't matter' is, in essence, giving up and saying  'My Faith matters to me but it's ok if it doesn't matter to you'. In plain speech, "My Faith doesn't matter as much to me as you." 

When you consider martyrs like Maria Goretti, or the mother in Maccabees (2 Macc. 7) who watches her sons tortured and martyred, you realize that your Faith should be more valuable than the life of your most beloved human companion, be it spouse, son, daughter, mother, father, sibling--and more valuable than your own. There aren't exceptions. To view a mixed marriage with nonchalance, therefore, and painlessly let go of things like Catholic ceremonies and traditions, to sit quietly by out of respect for your spouse's 'different opinions' on moral issues or on the Church, etc, is a careless endangerment of your own Faith at best.  At worst, after years of daily compromise on the small things, you will lose the big thing--your commitment to your Faith.  You'll find yourself asking if you really need to go to Church every Sunday, of if you can just have a hamburger with your family on that Friday during Lent--or use a contraceptive after you've had a few kids. It's a slippery slope.


"But that's not fair", I have had friends say to me.  Well...ok. It isn't about 'fair'.  Not if 'fair' means going to your non-Catholic spouse's church service on Sundays because he or she chooses to come to yours.  Not if 'fair' means nixing every nearly semblance of Catholic symbolism or tradition in your wedding (as a friend of mine did) so as not to make your non-Catholic spouse uncomfortable. Preserving the limits of your Faith means being uncompromising on certain issues, and that isn't a bad thing. 

St. Thomas Aquinas says (Summa, Question 58, article 9) that justice is not about passions (feelings getting hurt) but about operations--about what you do. True justice or fairness involves respecting your non-Catholic spouse, but it also involves respecting your Faith enough to be firm about what you can and can't do.  I think the attendance at non-Catholic churches thing is probably one of the most insidiousness instances of 'fairness' that hurts Catholics in mixed marriages, because it scandalizes and confuses any children involved, and lulls both you and your spouse into a comfortable space of false ecumenism.

The more devout your spouse is about their religion, the more disenfranchised they are going to feel, and that's unfortunately one of the costs of maintaining your Catholicism in a mixed marriage, which is why the article I linked at the beginning says it's easier for couples neither of whom have a serious religious commitment.

Happy Ending?

So, can there be a happy ending to a mixed marriage, or will it always end in a loss of Faith for the Catholic, or the loneliness of spirit so painful that you might as well have not gotten married?  

The simple answer is yes, but the work that is involved is much more complicated.  There are mixed marriages like St. Monica to St. Augustine's father, which was difficult and painful for her for thirty years, but resulted in the conversion of her son and husband.  There are marriages like those of medieval queens and kings who separated for one or both to live in monasteries when their children were grown.  There are marriages like my in-laws, in which the example of my fiance's Baptist mother converting to fervent Catholicism ended up reawakening her spouse's lukewarm Catholic Faith to bring them both closer.

The caveat to the 'yes', then, is that you can live a fulfilling life of grace in the married state (should that be your vocation) with a non-Catholic spouse, if you are willing to embrace the consequences and to see them in realistic terms.  Your marriage cannot be about romantic love, or 'how much you want to be with the other person' if it is at the expense of your firm adherence to your Faith.  All the sincere love, desire, and self-sacrifice in the world are pointless if at the expense of your salvation.  

For some, this is not news.  For others, this means a serious self-examination, and maybe even a very, very hard choice: choosing to trust the most faithful Lover to guide you to a spouse who He has chosen for you.  Not everyone who is in a serious relationship with a non-Catholic is called to a mixed marriage (no matter how 'sure' you feel!). Those who find themselves in one already and regretting it need to look to the grace of the sacrament to help them re-evaluate how they live their Faith in that marriage--to the benefit of all!  And those who are considering it should evaluate their intentions and their attitudes towards all of the above without excuses.  Walking away from a dangerous marriage is far less painful than waking up in one unprepared.

St. Monica & her son

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Shame Game: World Vision and the U.N. AIDS Resolution

With the recent kerfuffle surrounding World Vision's change and immediate reversal of a new policy that would allow 'married' gay individuals to work for them came a lot of backlash.
First, there were the Christians who were outraged by the mega-charity's decision to betray it's original principles.  Many of these people pulled their funding from the charity as a protest, stating that they could no longer in good conscience support the organization.

Round #2 was the backlash against the backlash, with left-leaning bloggers and reporters criticizing all the heartless, cruel monsters that were in essence taking food out of the mouths of starving children over a "narrow policy issue".

Finally, there was the follow-up backlash from the same people as backlash #2, who redirected their comments at World Vision itself when they reversed the policy, reaffirmed traditional marriage as a biblical Christian tenet, and therefore gave in to the bullying of their conservative Christian base.
The article I linked for 'Round #2' is a piece by a Patheos blogger that boils down to the following accusation: Christians who stopped supporting World Vision when World Vision started supporting homosexual "marriage" are hypocrites who defend an arbitrary, self-righteous hatred for the fact that "Janice from accounting has a wife" at the expense of "hungry children with empty bellies or sick children without medicine". Mr. Benjamin Corey, the author of the article, is definitely not alone in his sentiments, as I found many other articles with similar opinions all over the blogosphere.

But the title of Corey's piece in particular just begs a brief moment of...consideration? admiration?: "When We’d Rather Let Kids Go Hungry Than Be Reasonable On Gay Marriage."  This attack on Christians--who have committed the unthinkable crime of feeling entitled to decide that their charity dollars go to an organization that represents their beliefs--is incredibly smart. It simultaneously places believers on the defensive, and makes them look 1. stupid and childish, because the gay "marriage" issue is an innocuous issue, and 2. like rabid ideologues, who will kill children over an abstract and outdated principle.

It's another instance of the strategy that the Enemy appears to have realized works fairly well in modern culture: make the Christians out to be the bad guys because they actually stand for their principles and don't support the liberal agenda-clothed-in-humanitarianism. A hyperbolic headline like 'Christians steal bread out of the mouths of starving babies because they hate gays' incites much more outrage and support than a truthful one: 'Christians who have always Scripturally and ethically rejected homosexuality and affirmed traditional marriage choose to give money to a different charity so they don't violate their consciences'.


I didn't bring up the World Vision debacle, or Corey's article, however, just to point out their hypocrisy or their rhetoric.  Another piece of news surfaced this morning, unrelated to World Vision, but quite appropriate to discuss in light of it.

For the past week or so, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women has been reviewing an AIDS initiative spearheaded by several African countries where AIDS hits the hardest.  Today, those same countries backed out of voting on the finalized resolution because of language forced into the bill that downplays or removes stipulations about fidelity and monogamous partnerships, and which protects early "sexual debut" for teens, specifically girls and women.

This article from C-FAM describes how the language got into the resolution:
"In a surprise move, the Dutch delegate intervened to amend the resolution on behalf of the US and other countries in Europe and Latin America. They could not accept a mention of “delay of sexual debut” in a paragraph on helping women and girls protect themselves from HIV. Among the other defenses against HIV left in were condoms, gender equality, and gender sensitivity.
The draft had narrowly avoided being stripped of references to abstinence and fidelity. A confidential source told the Friday Fax that at the start of negotiations behind closed doors the U.S., European Union, and some Latin American countries insisted these be removed or there would be no resolution at all. A reference to reducing the number of sexual partners was removed later."
Perhaps I should title this piece "When We'd Rather Insist Kids Can Have Sex With Multiple Partners As Early As Possible Than Be Reasonable About The AIDS Epidemic"?

It sounds as ludicrous as Corey's headline, yet unlike his, this one is accurate.  Because American and European activists couldn't let go of an explicit U.N. commitment to pushing a sexually active lifestyle on kids, they caused countries most hurt by this issue to feel unrepresented and unaided.  "It’s all about sex, sex, sex, for them [the U.S./European agitators]," one of the African delegates remarked.

For the people who are living with the AIDS epidemic, making sure that teens can have as much sex as they want, as long as we are sure to provide them with condoms is a total misdirection of effort. (And condoms, incidentally, have been proven to be far less effective against AIDS than we have been led to believe by the Planned Parenthood cabal)  The issue is not how the people in the stricken countries are having sex, but that they are having it at all.  For non-married individuals, the best way to protect from the disease is simply to abstain from sexual activity.  The delegate's comment about it being all about 'sex, sex, sex' reveals that her perspective is not on sex at all--it is on the fact that people are dying.
"Early sexual debut and multiple sexual partners are associated with poverty. A pilot program in Malawi showed young women receiving cash transfers to attend school had lower HIV incidence because of delayed sexual activity, younger and fewer partners, and less likelihood of falling into prostitution. They were also more likely to continue their education and avoid child marriage. Other research shows partner reduction and fidelity led to HIV reduction in Kenya."
But, apparently, pleasure and immediate gratification is more important than the health, perhaps even the life, of these same children and teens.  Although the AIDS virus is such a threat in these regions, unhampered access to sex is given priority over anything else.

Furthermore, as the C-FAM report notes, "In Africa, women uniquely bear the brunt of the HIV epidemic, in part because male-to-female transmission is much more likely than female-to-male."  This means that, even more than the general disregard for the lives of the people in these countries, those refusing to let go of the sex-on-demand language in the resolution were specifically targeting women, since women will be the primary victims.

Who's waging a 'war on women' now?


The takeaway here is that in both instances, the World Vision policy shift, and the abandonment of the U.N. AIDS resolution by some of "the hard-hit areas in the HIV epidemic", Christian-shaming, or at least the shaming of moral or ethical principles, is spun to look like a great service to humanity.  Thank goodness for the voice of compassion that wants to feed the starving children; thank goodness we can rest easy at night knowing that little African girls can contract AIDS with as many partners as they like.

This cloaking of evil in a semblance of charity is sickening, but unsurprising.  Our culture loves itself above everything else, and would readily sacrifice the true well-being of others to preserve its shallow facade of justification for the way it wants to behave.

Checking the AIDS crisis by promoting abstinence would force us to admit that condoms don't always work, and that there are proven benefits to sexual restraint proportionate to the disadvantages of 'early sexual debut'.  Acknowledging that Christians have the moral obligation to stand for certain moral truths no matter what ends might appear to justify the means would require us to reevaluate the concept of absolute Truth, and would certainly require the occasional sacrifice of pleasure or preference to adhere to that Truth.
It is so much easier to disguise the sins of others and pat ourselves on the back for being compassionate than to submit to a real self-examination to reveal our own sins, and reveal what sacrifices true compassion for our fellow men and women would require of us.
But we should not allow ourselves to be made to feel ashamed for standing up for our beliefs, for the Truth, or should we be tricked by the language of charity that is wielded against us to make us feel like we are somehow hurting our neighbor instead of loving him.

"Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence;  and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong." (1 Peter 3:15-17)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Beating a Dead Horse for Life

The other day I got into one of those unfortunate situations known as a Facebook debate.  Like reality television series, they are easy to be sucked into, nearly impossible to stop, and leave you wondering where the last hour and a half of your life went.  

On my Facebook page, I posted this article about the investigative results that revealed the incineration of thousands of aborted babies' remains to heat UK hospitals.  My intent was hopefully to alert people who either were not aware of such things happening in today's world, or to re-alert and re-invigorate the people who were.

But a friend of mine took what I intended to be a sharing of information and launched into a diatribe against the pro-life movement as a whole.  (This is not an attack post! But my friend is not alone in her perspective, and it's the perspective, not the individual person, that I'm addressing here). 

She complained that all the pro-life movement, and indeed the vast majority of Catholics, ever talk about is abortion, abortion, abortion.  We beat to death the topics of abortion, contraception, and gay "marriage", at what she felt was the expense of other important humanitarian concerns, like social justice, income inequality, capital punishment, and war.  If we were truly pro-life, she and others like her have challenged, we would be concerned with all these things and be far more even-handed in our activism. She also argued that the pro-life movement was dead anyway, because it wasn't accomplishing anything and wasn't going to. Infanticide and abortion had been around since the dawn of time, and would remain with us for still longer.  Finally, if we would insist on talking about abortion, why were we so concerned with the unborn, when the more fruitful area of ministry would be towards the mothers, towards those women who felt they had no choice but to abort?

I found myself, as did my soon-to-be sister-in-law, who had joined in the conversation on my side of the issue, arguing vaguely for hope and perseverance. Plus, there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to stop other kinds of murder, or to give love and material support to expectant mothers with crisis pregnancies. But I found myself bucking against the idea that abortion-centered pro-life ministry was dead and done, and that we were somehow wasting everyone's time and energy reminding the world that babies are still being killed.

So, following my Facebook discussion with my friend, I questioned myself squarely:
What justification do we have, as Catholics and Christians, for continued emphasis on abortion, specifically?

Two of the other big killers always brought up by the camp opposed to the modern pro-life movement are war and the death penalty. "Oh, so you only care about a human life being taken if it's a fetus? What about all the soldiers? What about all those death row inmates?"  Well, consider the following:
  • Number of babies aborted in the U.S. since 1973: at least 55,772,015 (source: the Guttmacher Institute, a liberal thinktank who is more likely to underreport or report accurately than to overinflate the numbers) 
  • Number of Americans who have died in all U.S. wars since 1776:  1,321,612 (source, which is citing all kinds of other sources) 
  • Number of people executed by capital punishment since 1976: 1,362 (source)
This means that in just 40 years, we have aborted forty-thousand times more babies than we have executed criminals, and forty-two times more babies than Americans killed in all conflicts from our nation's conception. Let that sink in.

For you visual people, take a look, or watch this video:

So as far as the more immediate concern, we have, on one side of the scale, the genocide of several generations' worth of children, and on the other...well...let's also consider the identity of the victims in all three types of violence:
  • Soldiers, who volunteer out of patriotism and courage to defend their country, knowing the risk. 
  • Criminals, who have committed a violent crime and possibly murdered others themselves, and who have been deemed unfit to be returned to society, for society's protection. 
  • Unborn babies, who are totally innocent and have no protection, no agency, and no voice.
Does this mean it's ok that there are soldiers dying in unjust wars? No! Does this mean it's ok to execute a criminal as though his life has no value? No. (Or, not necessarily. This is a far stickier issue, and until the Church actively forbids it, I believe that capital punishment has its place in our society, and its justification in Aquinas as a charity).  But it does mean that both the soldier, who has a choice to serve, and the criminal, who has received just representation in a court of law, have far more of a fair shake than the baby, who has done nothing more criminal or deliberate than to be conceived.
Not that any of that makes the unborn baby's life intrinsically worth MORE than anyone else's, but rather, that it demonstrates that it is the most vulnerable, and clearly, as the numbers show, the largest casualty by leaps and bounds, and therefore requires our continued attention.
To ignore abortion or push it aside in favor of trendier crises, is to say to the Nazis, we see what you are doing to the Jews, but we would like to talk to you first about what you are doing to the Russians.  Was the huge number of casualties in the Russian army that took place on the Eastern Front terrible? Of course! But was it larger in scale or more pressing than the wholesale, assembly-line style slaughter of innocent and defenseless Jews in the concentration camps? No.

And don't forget the collateral damage of abortion--those mothers.  One in every three women has had an abortion.  That abortion torments them--whether they realize it or not--emotionally,  psychologically, and often, physically, for the rest of their lives (the fathers, too, assuming it is not kept secret from them).  So for every one aborted baby, you have one physical casualty and one, maybe two, more psychological ones.

So should we ignore all other issues just to focus on abortion? Definitely not.  As Pope Francis said, we must have a context.  But the context at this moment in time is that abortion is taking so many more lives than any other type of moral or ethical issue against which we might, as Catholics, want to protest, that it is rightfully the most spoken-of and the most heavily activized.

I don't particularly feel obligated to justify myself now when I post pro-life things to Facebook. I don't feel the need to apologize or compromise with people who think we are 'too obsessed' with abortion.  If being  concerned about the mammoth-scale murder of children--about nine times as many children as the population of New York City in 2013--is obsession, then fine, I am obsessed.

This is not an issue where we are 'choosing' to prioritize one issue over another, any more than anyone else passionately moved to speak out against genocide feels that it is a 'priority'. One cannot simply put aside the abortion issue like an old newspaper and pick up some other cause.  To reduce the defense of innocent human life to a preference does a grave disservice to those very soldiers being killed in the wars, and the society which a system of capital punishment seeks to protect.

It is certainly the duty of a Christian to try his hardest to champion all life, from conception to natural death, regardless of age, sex, race, creed, and condition.   
But if we in the pro-life movement should be careful not to forget the born because we are so focused on the unborn, neither can those who are merely 'tired of hearing about it' neglect 55,000,000 children.
And by the way, war and capital punishment have been with us since the beginning of humanity too. ;)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Honesty Alert: 'So what if abortion ends life?' 2.0

[This post was written on January 15, 2014, but will be also published on IgnitumToday, where I also write, later in the month, hence any seeming discrepancies between the date and words like 'today']

In a similar vein to my post about Duck Dynasty and A&E's clear message to Christians, I wanted to recall attention to this article posted on Salon, "So What if Abortion Ends Life?" and examine the 2014 attitude towards abortion from those who defend it.

The piece is just about a year old now, but I think it's still pertinent because it still represents a kind of new, chilling honesty lurking in the pro-abortion movement. For comparison, I'd like to present an article posted today on New Statesman: "The biggest lie of the anti-choice movement is that it is they who deal in harsh realities"

 Perhaps not every advocate of abortion would agree with Mary Williams, the author of the 2013 Salon article, when she says that she thinks the movement should admit and embrace the fact that abortion is murder.
"Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always." (emphasis mine)
In a nutshell, Williams' article condones oppression of the weak. 'It's OK to kill someone as long as they aren't the ones with the autonomy', she is saying, which was the same logic used by Hitler, slave owners, etc. Honestly, one of my favorite and most prophetic quotes from Orwell's Animal Farm is here re-appropriated by Williams, and touted as a positive reality: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." (What if the woman who in this scenario is 'the boss' is at the mercy of a man who is raping her? In this moment, since he is now 'the boss', do her rights and her life no longer matter? I was not aware that human rights were predicated on spheres of power.)

Anyway, Williams' article contained so much contradictory logic and coldness that I'm sure even some pro-abortion supporters felt the need to disassociate from such a view point as "I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time — even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing."

Yet I think she's revealing a trend that is evidenced by the more recent article by blogger "Glosswitch" on the New Statesman, published just today.
"The alternative to abortion is not a new life in the abstract, but the experience of pregnancy and labour, and a lifetime of consequences that will be experienced in hugely variant social and economic settings. If we valued pregnancy and birth as greatly as we claim to, we would recognise the importance of allowing those faced with unwanted pregnancies to make their own decisions. However, there is a point at which anti-choice rhetoric cuts loose from any engagement with women's lives at all." 
This is a seductive argument, at least on the surface, in that it seems to be a well-reasoned critique of the pro-life movement as so focused on the unborn babies as to ignore the very human needs of the mothers. Having worked in pro-life ministry for my Diocese, I know that the need for a holistic approach to the issue--to care for the mothers, the babies, before birth, after birth, and until natural death--is getting a great deal of attention and is gradually phasing out those last bastions of over-aggressive one-track-mind ministry.  So, wouldn't a piece like this be a pill better swallowed, since it should renew our desire to encompass all participants in a crisis pregnancy with love and support?

Aye, but here's the rub.  The Glosswitch article continues,
"I am pro-choice and I am willing to live with blood on my hands if it means all women have the choices I expect for myself. I don't want perfection, I want humanity. Life is more than a flickering heartbeat on a black and white screen...We cannot have a sustainable, humane society without at the very least respecting each person’s right to own themselves."
And there it is. We're back to the "life worth sacrificing" mentality of the salon article--just slightly more sugar-coated.  Some in the pro-life movement can be accused of focusing too heavily on the babies at the expense of the mother (in some cases--because let's not be unfair to that minority of pro-lifers either: they would never turn away from a mother in crisis, it just isn't their main focus sometimes). But is the appropriate response to that accusation to reverse the tables completely, and focus on the mother at the deliberate expenditure of the baby's life? Of course not! Either you value and protect human life, or you do not. The moment you start to qualify whose life is 'worth it' and whose is not, you put your own life, and the life of anyone and everyone else, at the mercy of an arbitrary judge who may or may not think you're worth saving.
Here's the takeaway: While in the depths of the human heart, it has never been a question whether or not abortion is murder, I think we have come now to a turning point in the discussion. For 4 decades now, advocates of consequence-free abortion on demand have tried to convince women (and the public) that a fetus is just a blob of cells; that a baby isn't a baby until it's born; that a baby in-utero is just part of the mother's body, over which she should have unquestioned dominion. The case for abortion was made in distraction from or denial of what was really going on.

Now, they begin to realize that 'the centre cannot hold' in such an argument. The bald facts of what kind of crime abortion perpetrates on an innocent human life become more readily acknowledged. 'This is murder', 'the unborn are indeed live, human persons, and we are ok with killing them', abortion-proponents now admit.

In some ways, this is horrifying. The extent to which we have devalued human life is shocking and heartbreaking.  The say that any particular life just isn't worth saving (especially when we are talking about a child) belies a deeply-seated cultural disease--a cynicism that expresses itself in a blind, almost catatonic, pursuit of pleasure without consequence. To prioritize the selfish desires of the mother over any right at all of the unborn child is definitively backwards.

Yet, as I felt after the Duck Dynasty debacle, this attitude gives me an odd kind of relief and hope. Finally--finally--we are speaking clearly to one another. Call abortion murder, and include an acceptance of that murder as a non-negotiable part of supporting this so-called 'reproductive right'.  If you are insisting on the 'right' to take another's life, then be fully aware of what that means.

Fr. Pavone has said that America will not reject abortion until America sees abortion. This is, perhaps, what is beginning to happen. When even those who support abortion cease to pretend away its violent and murderous reality, perhaps 'the truth will free' at least some women who choose it as a result of the carefully constructed facade of harmlessness that the past 40 years have put in place.  It is depressing to think we have gotten to a point where someone--anyone--could not only defend but embrace and attempt to justify the taking of an innocent human life; but at the same time, it is a hopeful sign that we are finally starting to look abortion in the face, and in so doing, we can only pray that the Holy Spirit will open more than just eyes.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Don't Text and Live: Loneliness and Technology

Last night in one of my classes, my teacher brought up the pseudo-indeliblity of self that has been ushered in by the age of social networking and internet culture. There is a fear present in modern society of being forgotten that our constant need to 'share' our most personal and most mundane moments betrays.

Indeed, I think this phenomenon is predicated by social networking and the like, but I think our class discussion of it fell short of addressing a far more important component: the cause. Why now, in an age when we already have more ability to share our personal lives with strangers at every waking moment of every day than ever before, are we urged, as if by something subconscious, to share more and more? It is as though we fear that if every moment is not carefully and mechanically computed, stored, and transmitted out, it is lost. If we do not share our inner self with others--if something or someone outside of ourselves does not see our true heart and soul--we will be unknown.
This modern characteristic--the fear of being unknown and the reactionary insistence on making others know us--I would suggest might come from the dire straits we are in spiritually, as a culture.

Every human heart longs to be known completely, which is part of the reason why God is so irresistibly appealing to those who have discovered Him as the great Knower.  He is also the only one that can ever truly know us, for "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart..." (Jeremiah 1:5). Yet today, with the loss of Faith in God, the abandonment of the search for Him, and the rampant selfishness and immorality that degrades the human person, there seems to be a widespread feeling of being lost in a vacuum, alone and unknown despite the frantic regurgitation of feelings and facts to any captive audience that technology allows us to access.  More accurately, perhaps: it's like screaming into a vaccuum--the louder we yell (the more 'connected' we are), we still can't be heard (and we still aren't connected with anyone in any real way).

During our class discussion, someone brought up those people (you know them or you are one) who go to events or catalog huge personal moments by filming or taking pictures.  They seem to get so lost in the mechanical process of recording that they miss the moment.  It becomes all-important to artificially capture an experience, so that it can be put aside and processed later; yet we never seem to get to it, and so our lives become a pathetic train of moments we weren't present for and conversations we didn't have because we were too busy self-branding the version of it we want to post to Facebook to listen to the words of the  person on the other side of the table.

In a secular class, and one with a very left-leaning bent, it is easy to become similarly bogged down in discussing times we've seen others act this way, or times we've caught ourselves acting the same.  But this ignores the root of the problem.  What kind of self-loathing, or emptiness, or loss of purpose, could cause us to lie so pathetically to ourselves? Because it is indeed a lie; although we clamor that our experiences--all of them--are of paramount importance to us and to everyone else, even as we notate and store them meticulously, we push them aside and refuse to face them, much less live them.

It's quite simple: we live in a hedonistic, navel-gazing, morally ambiguous culture, which has exiled the only One with the capacity to know and love each of us personally.  As a result, we search frantically for love, affirmation, and intimacy with anyone and everyone, but because everyone else is searching with equal urgency for their own slice of acknowledgement and love, nobody has time, or even the peripheral vision, to see or hear me, or you, except perhaps selfishly, as a discard-able means to their own end.

Technology, then is perpetuating, exacerbating, and more deeply ingraining a disease of the soul that has its roots elsewhere, in the orientation away from God and neighbor, towards the self. By this turning away and in, we have lost all real human connection, and all connection with the God who can actually satiate the desires that eviscerate people who chase their fulfillment in worldly arenas. We are lonely, but like Coleridge's mariner, dying of thirst amidst 'water, water everywhere--but not a drop to drink, we find ourselves in an ocean of 'personal' stimulus and connectivity that is, ultimately, sterile and selfish, and therefore universally unsatisfying.

The solution is Christ, of course, but while a large scale spiritual reorientation of culture may seem impossible, it can start much more simply, with our neighbor. Pope Francis explains it thus:
"Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way he lived his entire life. Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives." (EG 269)
This doesn't mean 'liking' a friend's status on Facebook. It means pulling your head up from beneath the overwhelming tide of commodified personal details that form the ocean of social networking, and listening to one person, face to face, say one real thing, where it matters--outside of the vaccuum. By turning back to our neighbor, we will gradually find ourselves turning back to Christ, and in so doing, will discover (or rediscover) that if we are finding the face of Christ in others, and talking to, caring for, and seeing Him there in them--then He is looking back at us.  His eyes, and His eyes alone, will truly see us and know us.

It means another thing, too, though. It means disconnecting from the frantic, stressful environment in which we find ourselves searching for something that we can't find in the artificially constructed reality of the desperately lonely. It means that we must "Be still, and know that I am God".  It is not coincidence that the words of Consecration, the act by which Christ gave Himself to us tangibly, until the end of time--the most real companionship and act of sacrificial love we could imagine--includes the word 'remembrance'.

We are never forgotten--it is we that forget.  So the next time your culturally-embedded loneliness is giving you the twitch to tweet mindlessly about your breakfast--try to make a practice of stopping and remembering that God knows and loves you.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Big Round of Applause to A&E For Doing the Honest Thing!

Well, it's about time. A&E has suspended Duck Dynasty's patriarch, Phil Robertson, for his frank Christian commentary on homosexuality.

The popular show, which is about evangelical Christians, has been a wildly popular, profitable venture for A&E.  Only now, with the dismissal of Phil Robertson, have they decided that their claim of "having always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community" actually requires them to air programs in line with that claim.

To see this as an entertainment-page drama over free speech is silly (sorry, Sarah Palin). Instead, this is yet another instance in which a major American entity has made it clear that in the fight between culture and morality, they are on the side opposite Christians.

As some people have pointed out, they were within their rights. Nobody insists that a private network allow anything and everything just because participants in their program wish to exercise their right to free speech. I'm not complaining that the network made this move. In fact, I'm grateful.

I prefer a fair fight. Make it clear where you stand, since I have made it equally clear.  Let us dispense with the obfuscating, trendy language of tolerance and openness, which really only masks a vast intolerance of all opinions but their own.

This is not the true tolerance, and ecumenism of Pope Francis, who says, "True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being “open to understanding those of the other party” and “knowing that dialogue can enrich each side”. (Evangelii gaudium).

This is the false-faced 'tolerance' of the "Co-Exist" generation, which, when it is revealed for the sham it is, evaporates into the privileging of one set of opinions over everything and everyone else, with a totalitarian silencing of any who think differently--or worse (and more commonly) the launching of a smear-campaign predicated on misquotes and caricatures.

Not to overquote Pope Francis, but he also said, of interreligious dialogue (which liberals and the 'Co-Exist' proponents claim to want):
"A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism. The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions" (EG 255).
Yet arbitrarily imposing silence on Christians in the name of 'tolerance' is exactly what A&E, Starbucks, and others, are doing in the U.S.

Take for example, what Phil Robertson actually said (excerpted directly from the interview):
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.”

What, in your mind, is sinful?

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
Two paragraphs later, Phil continues:
“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”
 Compare that to what is reported. Headlines include things like 'Duck Dynasty' star suspended for anti-gay remarks', and the articles, invariably, quote sparingly and manipulatively from the first paragraph I quoted above, where he lists homosexuality along with other sexual sins, but never from the second paragraph, where he speaks of forgiveness, evangelization, and non-judgment.  In fact, his original point in mentioning things like bestiality and adultery was to offer his opinion that, if you allow some sin, you end up having to allow all sin, but that at the end of it all, the right to judge hearts lies with God.

The way the media spins it, however, you'd think he'd said he hated gays or wished they were all dead.  Like this little gem of reporting from CNN:
"Phil Robertson, a star of A&E's "Duck Dynasty," has been suspended indefinitely after slamming gays in a magazine interview."

Then you have the response of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) to Robertson's remarks:
"Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe. He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans — and Americans — who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples. Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families."
Christianity has always been clear about homosexuality. It condemns it.  People who disagree with that tenet of Christian belief are not really Christian. So firstly, the GLAAD representative's remark is inaccurate. More importantly, Phil's comments were not stereotyping or even commenting on gay people themselves. He merely reiterated/paraphrased the Bible, and made an observation about the slippery slope of an all-inclusive relative morality.  Furthermore, for a group clamoring for an non-judgmental acceptance of others regardless of their lifestyle, GLAAD seems to be making some pretty sweeping judgments about the sincerity of the Robertsons' beliefs, and some pretty intolerant desires for 'public disdain' and rejection as their punishment for living a Christian lifestyle.

As I said before, I'm grateful. Thank you, A&E, for making it so clear what you think of Christianity.  Thank you for showing us all that the only reason you've aired Duck Dynasty to begin with was profit. Thank you for letting practicing Christians in the U.S. (millions of whom are Duck Dynasty fans) know that you consider them a 'stain' on the country.

Because, let's speak plainly.  Even though we are to fight evil with Christ and hatred with love, let us not describe such conflicts in honeyed terms, or pretend that there are not two sides.

This is war.

Dear Rush Limbaugh (et al): "This Exhortation is not a social document"

 Given that my title contains a quote as clear as the above, I shouldn't need to expand this post one sentence further. But I've encountered some confusion lately regarding Pope Francis' new exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, in regards to its intended message about economics.  Rush Limbaugh, most notably, offered a scathing rant on the topic on his radio program (later half-retracted), but I've heard the same types of concerns voiced by many people around me.

The exhortation is so rich, I couldn't begin to adequately explain all of the facets of merely the section on economies, but I think it's helpful to clarify a few points.

1. Clear and Consistent.

The Pope himself says, as my title suggests:
"This Exhortation is not a social document, and for reflection on those different themes we have a most suitable tool in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, whose use and study I heartily recommend. Furthermore, neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social realities or the proposal of solutions to contemporary problems" (EG 184).
 He means it, I am fairly certain, the way it reads: Evangelii gaudium is not intended to be a definitive road-map--especially not one to be globally applicable or even multi-nationally inclusive--for economics.  Quoting Paul VI, he says: "'It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country'" (EG 147). It is not an updated Catholic version of a little red book, or a Marshall plan.  It is a comment on economics from the perspective the social and the spiritual.  It is not concerned with dictating the structures, but is instead calling attention to the impact of the structure on the people.  This people-and-poor oriented lens is totally consistent with Francis' papacy so far, and to omit that is to miss the entire heart of the message, and the intent of its author.

2. What you do, not (dictating) how you do it.

One example of the kind of 'economic suggestions' Francis makes is that of the just wage.  Far from being radical, his statement is enthusiastic and optimistic, but hardly unreasonable:
"We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity”. This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use" (EG 152)
I have heard people claiming that this means he is for the redistribution of wealth, or that he is for socialized medicine, or that he is calling for a kind of religious-Communism, and, perhaps because South America is so close to his heart, it is assumed that he himself endorses Socialism.

A problem that seems to be plaguing this Pope's words is the sound-byte mentality of our media culture. Nobody reads what he actually says, and if they do, they only read a snippet, out of context.  To quote him as saying that everyone should have access to education, healthcare, and a job, could indeed sound like Socialism if not fitted accurately and comfortably within the context of the rest of the exhortation.

But it is not a social document, and even the sentence that mentions the just wage itself offers clarity.  To offer a person a just wage, a living wage, with which they can adequately care for themselves and their family (and I beg your pardon, but minimum wage in the United States is not even close to a just wage) is not the same as socializing and federally subsidizing elements of everyday life that would otherwise be unaffordable to someone who is being underpaid.  Hallmarks of Communism and Socialism are the fatal poverty, yet also the touted equality.  A just wage is a simple, general concept that has no political attachments, no economic implications.  It certainly says nothing about taking from the rich to give to the poor.  It is merely a request for the care of human dignity, in ways, as the earlier quote from Paul VI suggests, that are tailored by each respective country to their cultural and economic structures.

 3. Income Distribution
The exhortation does treat with the matter of an imbalanced distribution of income.  Francis says that the suffering of the poor, resultant in part from a lack of just wage or equal opportunities, "seem[s] 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" (EG 203). 
He states point blank that "as long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills" (EG 202).
However--and this is an integral 'however'--nowhere does he offer an explicit or specific political or economic structure to supplement or replace any existing ones.  While he is very wary of the dire risk of "trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market" (EG 204), he does not target capitalism, or any other specific system, by name, nor does he say that any extant systems cannot or should not be preserved.  What he says is that it is time for citizens, governments, and politicians to focus the trajectory of their goals and efforts towards the care of the dignity of the population in their given locale.  He calls for deliberate "decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality" (EG 204), but it is nowhere stated or even implied that a government (or any other entity) is solely responsible for, or should have total authority over such mechanisms.  A Communist or Socialist would seek to place the responsibility for these things in the hands of a completely centralized government, since they believe the populace incapable of administering any kind of justice or equality themselves.  Pope Francis, far from this position, suggests a tandem personal and communal accountability for the other, for the neighbor.

Furthermore, it is not that he has an intrinsic hatred of or problem with, say, capitalism.  It is simply that, from the perspective of a shepherd concerned with the well-being of his flock, he is objectively noting a broken mechanism.
"I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded" (EG 204).
He can hardly be clearer than by his words in the preceding.  Populism--'the political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite'--is the kind of umbrella under which falls other ideologies, including Socialism and Communism.  Thus, the Pope is definitively dismissing the idea of his endorsing any 'populist' ideals, which he sees as 'irresponsible'.
"Economy, as the very word indicates, should be the art of achieving a fitting management of our common home, which is the world as a whole. Each meaningful economic decision made in one part of the world has repercussions everywhere else; consequently, no government can act without regard for shared responsibility" (EG 206).
If his immediate words in the exhortation were not enough, he clarified even further in an interview a few days later (in which he stated unequivocally: "Marxism is wrong."), the translation of which you may read here if you are interested.

The take-away? It's the same as I could (and have) noted about Pope Francis before: Context. He is scintillatingly clear, but even the most eloquent, pithy individual would sound different, even opposite, if unmoored from any kind of context. At first I thought that it might be helpful to suggest this contextualization as a reading strategy for Francis; but on further thought I realize that this is a common courtesy we pay to so many others on a regular basis--the media is often criticized for taking soundbytes out of context, and we are incensed by the subsequent misappropriation and misapplication of someone's words. Why should this be any less or any different for our Pope?
"If anyone feels offended by my words, I would respond that I speak them with affection and with the best of intentions, quite apart from any personal interest or political ideology. My words are not those of a foe or an opponent. I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centred mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth" (EG 208).