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December 9, 2013

Pope Francis has produced a marvellous apostolic exhortation in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of Evangelization). There was a time when one might have expected that such a document would be about turning "pagans" into crisp new Catholics. That day is long gone.

One place to begin reading The Joy is in paragraph 180. There, Pope Francis says Scripture "makes it clear that the Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God. . . . The Gospel is about the kingdom of God; it is about a loving God who reigns in our world."

In the next paragraph, The Joy says, "The kingdom, already present and growing in our midst, engages us at every level of our being."

This is not new. The Second Vatican Council said one of the great tragedies of our time is the split between faith and life. Blessed John Paul II said the same thing many times.

What is this split between faith and life? It is Sunday Catholicism. If one delivers a scintillating homily about missionary discipleship on Sunday, lies to someone on Monday, breaks a promise on Tuesday, advocates tax cuts for the rich on Wednesday, chops the pastoral assistant's salary on Thursday and berates a homeless person on Friday, that is a split between faith and life.

Things are not always so obvious. What is tragic is that sometimes they are that obvious and we still fail to see our hypocrisy.

"An authentic faith," Pope Francis writes in The Joy, "always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it."

So, if this is the goal, who is the first person we call when we get into a morally problematic situation? Is it a lawyer who tells us how to cover our butt, or is it a spiritual director who can help us find the way of Jesus?

Pope Francis has personally overcome the split between faith and life. He is integrated. One can read about joy in The Joy; one can see joy embodied when the pope rushes to hug a radically disfigured man from whom most would turn away in fright or disgust.

Hugging the disfigured man does not itself change the world. But if the goal of "resolving the structural causes of poverty" is more than ideological blather, it must be rooted in hugging the disfigured person. More than policies for social reform, Catholic faith offers "integral development."

In integral development, love and mercy are more basic than justice. The whole person is to be redeemed. Development comes from "hugging" some specific marginalized person and, out of a growing understanding of that person's oppression, advocating for that which sets him or her free.

Love first, social analysis second, advocacy for justice third. When we get that order wrong, we mess things up. When we get it right, the world can experience joy.