"We do not serve ideas, we serve people."

"We do not serve ideas, we serve people."

Celebrating his first Mass in Cuba, Pope Francis delivered an interesting homily today that highlighted a couple of key themes of his pontificate.

He focused first on service to others as the fundamental expression of Christianity. This service is never about self-promotion and never merely about setting up programs, the pope said, but involves encountering real people in their suffering.

“Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh,” he said. “Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.” He was speaking about the Christian approach to life, and his words carried wider meaning in a country that recently began "restructuring" its socialist policies.

The pope’s second point was the temptation to engage in “service that is self-serving,” or that helps only “our people.” This is a process of exclusion that’s often based on judging others before assisting them, he said.

I think we’re going to hear a lot about exclusion during this trip, both in Cuba and in the United States. Most of the pope’s critique of the dominant global economic system, for example, is centered on the fact that it excludes so many people from opportunities reserved for the privileged.

Pope Francis’ homily in Revolution Square was far less political than those delivered by his two predecessors. In 1998, Pope John Paul II bluntly appealed for “great change” in Cuba and urged greater respect for religious and other human rights. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI issued a similar call.

Pope Francis stayed away from direct criticism of Cuba’s government and its continuing restrictions on church activities. Perhaps he is saving that for private talks with government leaders, or for other events.

The pope seemed more intent on explaining how Christians express their faith as citizens, primarily by fighting for human dignity and helping those most in need: “That is why Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable.”

He was, of course, speaking mainly to a Catholic audience at the liturgy. But in attendance was Cuban President Raul Castro and other government officials, and the pope’s closing remarks, which praised and challenged Cuba’s people, seemed aimed at them as well.

“It is a people that has its wounds, like every other people, yet knows how to stand up with open arms, to keep walking in hope, because it has a vocation of grandeur,” he said.

He urged Cubans to continue to care for the weakest in society, adding: “Do not neglect them for plans which can be seductive, but are unconcerned about the face of the person beside you.”


7 comments (Add your own)

1. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh wrote:
As a cradle Catholic and as a family physician, I wish it was true that the Church leaders would serve people over ideas. If that were true, there would be no ban on the use of contraceptives. Woman would be respected as equals with men, as God created us to be in Genesis 1:27. The pope and hierarchy would be good shepherds and search out the lost sheep, who are victims of clergy sexual abuse/rape around the world. Instead, there is a ban on artificial birth control; there is a disrespect for women; there is no search by the hierarchy for the lost sheep. There is only a misguided serving of ideas rather than a serving of the real needs of people, in my view.

Sun, September 20, 2015 @ 3:43 PM

2. A_Winter wrote:
Dr. McHugh,

It is not clear to me that the Catholic Church's ban on contraception in any way disrespects women. Are you aware that this ban applies to men as well? Could it not be that the deeper matter is not a sexual discrimination at all but rather unshakeable fidelity to the Word of God?

This "no" by the Church is given only to free her people, God's children, up for a greater "yes." In this case, the "no" to contraception frees men and women to fulfill the most fundamental command given by God just one verse after the one you cite! That is, of course, to "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen 1:28).

A cursory reading of Genesis quickly shows that God made his creatures for fruitfulness. A walk in the park or visit to the zoo does the same thing!

Sun, September 20, 2015 @ 9:21 PM

3. Mathew D-Codjoe wrote:
Yes we serve people because we love them. We serve people based on what Christ teaches us. As a father I serve my children and family out of love for them.If I abuse my children and family I rightly deserve chastisement and correction. But out of love for them I cannot yield to all their desires and whims.

Sun, September 20, 2015 @ 9:56 PM

4. Victor wrote:
Simply not true. I am the Truth the Way and the Life. We serve a person we serve Christ. Contraception doesnt serve the person. I think chastity is an excellent contraceptive given to us by God. I am not of the hierarchy but certainly serve and thank God for the Church teachings for they are true good and beautiful.

Sun, September 20, 2015 @ 10:10 PM

5. Ruby wrote:
I believe we are to serve God and our neighbor because of our love of God.

Mon, September 21, 2015 @ 4:33 AM

6. Matt wrote:
Dr., with complete respect, opposition to the ban on birth control seems to me to reflect the unnecessary and worldly preoccupation with recreational sex, and people (men and women) not wanting to put the proper value in it. That is, as a holy, spiritual function with a specific purpose - rather, as Western Culture has reduced it to, a way to have fun.

It begs the question - what is sex, and why do we put so much emphasis on it in our society - selling it as a fun activity to just "do" rather than understanding it as something holy and spiritual that should be revered in the context of holy matrimony rather than exploited and sold to people like fast food? And then we expect the Church to just let us go around abusing sex and using all the birth control we want because we don't see it as such a deeply purposeful act of love and creation?

The Church does not disrespect women by placing sex on a pedestal as the height of spiritual union in a marriage. I honestly think it places extreme esteem on both men and women, in marriage, by valuing the purpose of our bodies and asking us to do the same.

But keep in mind also that every teaching in the Church comes down to a choice on the part of the believer - a choice that you make, whether to follow teaching or to embrace sin as a lifestyle? Nobody's forcing anyone to do it, but the things of this world are fleeting, and the things of the next are eternal, and that's where we should be putting our focus rather than on embracing worldliness in our short earthly lives.

Mon, September 21, 2015 @ 1:38 PM

7. John Keenan wrote:
One looks forward to the conversion of Castro whose lifelong long service to an ideology that has left a wake of devastation and death. If we are to serve the disenfranchised and the poo in their sufferingr, it cannot charitable and be through the force of government. Human freedom is necessary.

Mon, September 21, 2015 @ 2:38 PM

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