Bernie Sanders, a contender for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President identifies closely with Pope Francis’ ideological views. In Sander’s references to the Holy Father, he clearly indicates that he is a fellow socialist. Perhaps there are similarities between the Holy Father’s teachings and the social considerations that are labeled as socialism however there are indeed keen differences.
The social teachings of the Holy Father are based on the precepts of the Gospels. Socialism is based on the principles of secular humanism, which doesn’t include God as part of the secular equation. Socialism bases its principles not on the theological transcendence of moral and social values based upon the teachings of Jesus, it more closely aligns itself with the political understandings of an equivocal society without divine and natural law as the guiding principles of life.
Pope Francis is straddling a precarious line with his blunt message to the world to embrace Christ and His teachings. The social teachings of the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council promote a radical change of heart for all Catholics to zealously embrace the teachings of the Gospel message. Gaudium et Spes, The Constitution of the Church in the Modern World clearly indicates the Church and its faithful are called to a new perspective and methodology of practicing their faith in the modern contemporary world. The Catholic principles of inclusion of all peoples into the Church, the Body of Christ demands radical participation in faith in order to present Jesus to the entire world and not just a selective few.
Bernie Sanders’ beliefs are not necessarily incompatible with Pope Francis’ principles and Catholic teachings. Both proclaim a message of ecological awareness and the need to preserve our environment and natural resources. Pope Francis in Laudato Si proclaims the need all peoples share in regards to environmental stewardship of our common planet. The encyclical calls all Catholics collectively with all peoples to embark in a new direction that safeguards and restores our natural resources, viewing the world as a sacred place that reflects God’s love through Creation. Both Sanders and the Holy Father share an immense passion for environmental preservation and restoration, however that doesn’t make Pope Francis a socialist.
Pope Francis does present some common messages of socialism in his teachings, such as the redistribution of global wealth among all peoples, an aversion to class distinctions and the demand that the poor receive proper resources to alleviate poverty of all forms. Sanders promotes the same causes. However, the defining aspect of Pope Francis’ message is the inclusion of Jesus Christ as the ultimate role model for all of humanity, not a socio-political platform of ideological beliefs that glorify mankind as the ultimate source and terminating point in fulfilling the needs of the global society. Pope Francis elevates Jesus Christ to this prominence and in doing such differentiates his message of Gospel equality from socialism because God is the central focus of humanity’s determination.
The fine line between full-blown socialism and realistically fulfilling the teachings of Jesus is indeed one that demands careful personal discernment. Pope Francis’ proclamation of Christ’s life and ministry as the ultimate fulfillment of our social responsibilities as Catholics is indeed what separates Catholics from secular socialism. This great distinction transcends politics and international borders and makes the Catholic Church’s vocation and occupational mandate one that reflects God’s unconditional love for all peoples the guiding methodology of our form of Catholic social justice that demands inclusion of all and equality for everyone.
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