Comboxes were ablaze with the Left and Right finger-wagging each other on what the other should believe, while at the same time declaring how much of it they will ignore. One conservative chastised the Pope and said he should do like the other popes and stay out of social issues. In response, I listed the dozen or so social encyclicals popes have written since the 1800s and asked him which one of those popes we should tell to butt out, too. Another conservative accused the Pope of being a heretic because parts of his encyclical sound like they defy subsidiarity (which they don't). He then basically sounded like he was going to retreat into a little, ultra-traditional enclave until the big, bad Francis gets called away to eternal rest.
In other words, many Catholics and non-Catholics (for the most part) threw up in their mouths a little. Which means that the Pope hit a home run. To me, one of the most appealing aspects of the Church is that it's hard-wired to ask you to improve yourself. People who refuse because they are too self-centered or they enjoy their sins will say the Church is "butting in" or that the Church is "full of rules", but to me it sounded like an invitation to be a better person. So, instead of finding a church that thinks like me, I found a Church that challenges me to think more like Christ and His Apostles. This encyclical then, for me, is another in a 2,000-year-old line of documents asking me to be the Christ in other people's lives so that they may want to meet the Savior that changed my life so much for the better.
I'm not doing that right now. I'm in a bit of a self-centered, self-pitying, self-loathing kind of period of my life. However, I hear the challenge - and I accept it. I've ordered a copy of the encyclical from Ignatius Press and I eagerly await its arrival. Sure, I can read it online for free, but I enjoy holding a book. Sorry. Just old-fashioned, I suppose. But I hope the Pope rattles my cage. I live a fairly humble lifestyle, but I could stand to change. Sure, I don't run the a/c night and day and I turn off all my appliances and lights when not in use, but I do spend a LOT of money on food - restaurants, junk food, fast food; certainly not to survive, but to make each meal an indulgent, gut-busting experience. Or how about the fact that not only do I not buy fair trade coffee (and thereby inadvertently support slavery, more or less), but I also drink gallons of it, which just perpetuates that unjust system because I'm buying 500 pounds of coffee every couple of months. My lack of support for local farms and organic produce just encourages the factory farm system America has that is destroying the food industry, as well as the environment. These are all realities, which is what the Pope is asking every human being to consider: In the living of my everyday life, do I ever pause and think about how my lifestyle affects the environment? My family? My neighbors? The poor? And does my lifestyle take away my focus from loving God with all my might, and loving my neighbor as myself?
That's all the Pope is asking. And instead of finding out ways that I can ignore his message, I choose to accept his challenge and think long and hard about my answers to those questions.
David Mills sees the same hyperventilating from the Right with this encyclical that we've seen from the Left: "Change a few words and you could be reading the liberal reactions to Bl. Paul VI and Humanae Vitae, or to St. John Paul II shutting the door on ordaining women to the priesthood, or to Benedict XVI allowing the use of the old Mass." Rightfully so, he suggests the best way for a Catholic to receive this encyclical, which is the way I choose to receive it: "A better response, a more faithful response, it seems to me, is to read the pope with deference and humility, as a son listening to his father. We call the pope the Holy Father for a reason."