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Daily News and Prayer is inspired by The Christian Science Monitor, one of the most important (and most underappreciated) newspapers in the world. Posts are usually (but not always) responses to articles in the Monitor about events and trends that call for prayer.

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The Pope and the poor

One of my favorite columnists is Fareed Zakaria, who writes for The Washington Post and The Atlantic and hosts a show on CNN. His column today in the Post, “If you have a problem with Pope Francis’s message, you have a problem with Christ” (shortened on the home page to the misleading “A problem with the Pope is a problem with Christ,” as if Zakaria is complaining about the Pope, which he is not), expresses gratitude for the simple message that Christianity ministers to the poor.

Zakaria says he is not a Christian but went to Christian schools in India when he was younger, where he got to know the Bible. But when he came to the US in the 1980s he began to see a different Bible than he knew:

“I remember being surprised to see what ‘Christian values’ had come to mean in American culture and politics — heated debates over abortion, abstinence, contraception and gays. In 13 years of reading, reciting and studying the Bible, I didn’t recall seeing much about these topics.” He quotes writer Garry Wills, who says in his new book, The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis, “Many of the most prominent and contested stands taken by Catholic authorities (most of them dealing with sex) have nothing to do with the Gospel.”

Well, yes and no. There are honorable biblical reasons to oppose abortion and contraception (“Thou shalt not kill”), reject gay marriage (“From the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife”) and support abstinence (“Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart”).

But the larger point is valid: The power and worth of Christianity is not cultural or political. It’s spiritual. It’s about lifting people up. Sure, it has applications in politics and culture and every other aspect of life, but only as a means of infusing life with the beauty of Christliness. Christianity is not an alternative route to temporal power, and it cannot be used as such without losing its spiritual essence.

As Zakaria and the Pope point out, Christianity is about preaching the gospel to the poor. “The poor” aren’t just the poor in financial terms. If that were all we were talking about, turning Christian values into political weapons might make sense, in a crude and cynical way. But Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” To me those last two words capture the crucial issue: Those who know that they need more of God are the core caretakers of Christianity and the ones who understand its message best. Rallying these people involves quite a different approach than just argument or pandering. It involves conferring grace, which is a combination of love, forgiveness and good will. The truly graceful political or religious leader is the one who, in the long run, wields real power.

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