“If you have a problem with Pope Francis, you have a problem with Jesus.” — Father Jim Martin on The Colbert Report
In the wake of Pope Francis’s remarks about the destructive nature of capitalism and the Christian imperative for the rich to give to the poor, the Catholic Church is in danger of losing some big-name (and deep-pocket) donors. Late in November, Francis issued a Papal Exhortation, a sort of extended opinion piece, which had some harsh words for those who believe trickle-down economics will yield greater inclusiveness:
“Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase.”
So, last night, Jim Martin (official chaplain of The Colbert Report and a Jesuit priest) visited Mr. Colbert to talk about economic injustice and the Catholic church. Home Depot CEO Ken Langone, a wealthy Catholic man and philanthropist, told New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan that the Pope’s comments had left some wealthy people feeling slighted. “You get more with honey than with vinegar,” Langone told Dolan.
Funny enough, that’s exactly what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. It was the part right in between “blessed are the meek” and “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and Matthew probably forgot to write it down, but it’s there. That’s why Jesus was so nice all the time! That’s why John the Baptist ate honey, not vinegar!
“What’s the Pope’s angle on this one?” Colbert implored. “Why is he gunning for the big-money people?”
“Jesus tells us to care for the poor,” Martin responded. The Pope wanted to remind the rich of their responsibility to care for the poor as well.
“But he’s not attacking the poor. He’s attacking the rich,” Colbert said. “He’s got to attack both of them if he loves them both, okay? That’s in the gospel…We rich guys feel attacked by the Pope because, what are we supposed to do to do the right thing? I’ve got a lot of cash. What am I supposed to do for the poor?”
“Well, it’s pretty simple. You’re supposed to love the poor, first of all, and respect them, and then help them as Jesus asked us to.”
But how much are we supposed to love the poor, Colbert wondered? Colbert played the part of the Rich Young Ruler–the guy who, in Matthew 19, asks Jesus “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” and, when Jesus replies that he must “sell your possessions and give the money to the poor,” and so he “went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” The love of money (and the security money brings) runs deep, and part of Jesus’ great wisdom was knowing that truth about human nature.
Martin talked about the invitation God extends for all of us to live simply and care for one another, and participate in a beautiful place, which is called the reign of God.
“What do I get from all that?” Colbert wondered.
“Umm…joy, peace, and eternal salvation,” Martin responded.
“Have you ever been on a private jet? That’s heaven.” The two friends laughed, and it was hard not to remember the words Martin spoke earlier in the show, about having a problem with economic injustice meant not only a problem with the Pope, but with Jesus. I can only hope that Langone and his cohort can see that, for their own sake as much as anyone’s.