Pope Francis is like a canary in the coal mine, identifying toxic trends in our society, then, offering hope as he suggests Christian solutions to current issues.
The expression, a canary in the coal mine, is a saying which refers to caged canaries miners would bring with them into mine tunnels. These birds were used in Britain, right up until 1999 as a way to warn miners if gases like carbon monoxide collected in the mine. Noxious gas would kill a tiny canary before miners even knew they were in danger. Now the phrase, a canary in the coal mine, alludes to someone whose sensitivity delivers early warnings to society. Our popes have often perceived subtle shifts away from gospel values before most of us even notice.
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.
Throughout history, our popes have tried to shine a light on our society’s failings and encourage the faithful to join them, to become involved and to speak out.
Pope Francis on Abortion and the Right to Life
- Fellow Canadians and I like to see ourselves as more compassionate than the States with our universal medicare, a safety net for the vulnerable, and humane immigration policy, yet we actually voted for Justin Trudeau, a Liberal Prime Minister who demanded that anyone running for any Canadian public office as a Liberal must agree with an unrestricted right to abortion. Now Canadian foreign policy insists upon pro-abortion provisions in its aid to, and dealings with, foreign states. Trudeau also supports legalized euthanasia.
Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this.
Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question… it is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life… Evangelii Gaudium #213-214
The Culture of Prosperity
- Our society tends to exalt those who are ruthless and therefore successful in business. Rich nations are often reluctant to provide aid to third world countries, waiting until war and famine have already devastated them. Pope Francis addressed world poverty:
The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime, all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us. Evangelii Gaudium,
- We admire successful big businesses which look at the bottom line and are reluctant to spend profits on protecting the environment.
We must not be indifferent or resigned to the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of ecosystems, often caused by our irresponsible and selfish behaviour. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence. We have no such right. (Pope Francis)
Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity. In this core moral space, the world’s religions play a very vital role. (Pope Francis)
- Citizens in first world countries are becoming more suspicious of immigrants, fearful of those who are different. The gospel urges us to act like the Good Samaritan, offering aid to the outcast.
Those who, for what may be political reasons, foment fear of migrants instead of building peace are sowing violence, racial discrimination and xenophobia, which are matters of great worry for all those concerned about the safety of every human being. (Pope Francis)
- Even if people persist in sin, Catholics must be aware of and prepared for this challenge. In COLOMBIA in SEPTEMBER, 2017, Pope Francis warned:
We cannot deny that there are people who persist in sins that damage the fabric of our coexistence and community. I also think of the heartbreaking drama of drug abuse, which reaps profits in contempt of the moral and civil laws. This evil directly goes against human dignity and gradually tears away at the image the Creator has formed in us. I firmly condemn this trade which has killed so many and which is nourished by people who have no scruples. The lives of our brothers and sisters cannot be played with, nor their dignity instrumentalized.
I think of prostitution, which every day reaps innocent victims, especially the young, robbing them of their future. I think of the abomination of human trafficking, crimes and abuses against minors, the horror of slavery still present in many parts of the world; the frequently overlooked tragedy of migrants, who are often victims of disgraceful and illegal manipulation” (Message for the World Day of Peace, 2014, 8), and I think too of the desire to even make some profit from that pacifist “sterile legality” which ignores the flesh of our brothers and sisters, the flesh of Christ.
Catholics are called on to base themselves on a rock of justice without diminishing charity as they continue to commit themselves to defend human rights in the face of sin.
The Canaries in the Coal Mine
Every society needs at least one canary in the coal mine. Each successive pope has been rooted in the Spirit and in Christian culture and so has the freedom to view society through a lens of faith, delivering God’s perspective on current issues. The successors of St. Peter speak for those without power, without a voice like Pope Francis who encourages young people to speak out because they offer a fresh perspective on issues.
Young people, you have it in you to shout. It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?
May we all speak out courageously against injustice and immorality, taking our cue from our shepherd.