There are those on both sides of the fence who have cast the present inhabitant of the Chair of St. Peter as some sort of ersatz Che Guevara in clerical garb. For those on the left and right who see this (or any) pope through a political lens there is a line in Chapter 8 of Christus Vivit that seemingly confirms their beliefs about Francis and his real agenda for the Church. And I believe that their conclusion is correct: This one line is the lightning rod of the Franciscan worldview, but it is a worldview very different from the ones with which either the left or the right would ultimately side.
In paragraph 264 of this chapter on “Vocation” Francis sends out a call to action for all young Catholics who are searching for meaning in their lives: “I ask you, instead, to become revolutionaries.”
Francis is very clear and open about his call to revolution, but it is a call that will upset the applecart of post-modern bourgeois culture in a way unimagined by the apologists – both progressive and conservative – of our brave new world’s Enlightenment vision. For, unlike the progressive call for unfettered sex and the conservative call for unfettered markets that are the two sides of the same Enlightenment coin, the Franciscan revolution calls young people to one thing as the antidote to both sides of that bankrupt worldview: the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
This revolution to which Francis calls young Catholics is in reality a counter-revolution against the accepted hegemony of self-centered sexual and economic gratification. It is a revolution against the “instead” mentioned in “I ask you, instead, to become revolutionaries.”
The pope describes this “instead” as the culture of “the ephemeral,” a culture where “nothing can be definitive.” In such a culture “there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion…many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the present moment.” Sadly, many people – young and old – have answered this call to a life of ephemeral pleasures, a life that Francis warns is one of “rampant individualism that in the end leads to isolation and the worst sort of loneliness.”
The revolution of marriage is the path away from isolation and loneliness: “By this gift [the grace bestowed by God in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony], and by the certainty of this call, you can go forward with assurance; you have nothing to fear; you can face everything together!”
The grace given by God to a young woman and man who answer the call of marital union is their armor in this revolutionary battle against those who see neither sex nor economics in light of the Gospel. In words that would make both Pope St. Paul VI and Pope St. John Paul II proud, Francis explains, “[Sex] is a gift from God, a gift the Lord gives us. It has two purposes: to love and to generate life. It is passion, passionate love. True love is passionate. Love between a man and a woman, when it is passionate, always leads to giving life. Always. To give life with body and soul.”
One of the footnotes of this section references a Q & A session that Francis had with young people at Assisi back in 2013, and the similarities between the message of that meeting and the present exhortation are striking – especially in the emphasis on the necessary link of marriage with vocation or call from God. In that 2013 discussion in front of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, Francis encourages the young couples in the audience by telling them “what a beautiful witness” they are because they “have joyfully and courageously decided to form a family. Yes, it is so true that it takes courage to form a family. It takes courage!”
Young people who enter the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony are courageous because it is not easy to be revolutionaries against a society that “favors individual rights rather than the family…It favors relationships that last until difficulties arise…This is selfishness…Everything is provisional.”
Francis sympathizes with young couples who might not have the courage to make the marriage commitment because so many adults around them have given in to the “instead.” These decisions, through no fault of the children left in their wake, “can cause great suffering and a crisis of identity in young people.” And, these situations “can lead many young people to ask whether it is worthwhile to start a new family, to be faithful, to be generous.”
To these young people, and to all who have made the commitment to the vocation of marriage and family, the Holy Father gives an impassioned call to remain Gospel revolutionaries:
“It is worth your every effort to invest in the family; there you will find the best incentives to mature and the greatest joys to experience and share. Don’t let yourselves be robbed of a great love. Don’t let yourselves be led astray…I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against the culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes that you are incapable of responsibility, incapable of true love. I have great confidence in you, and for this reason, I urge you to opt for marriage.”
Viva la revolución!